Democrats Agonize: Will Enough Millennial and Hispanic Voters Turn Out?

(Bloomberg) -- Just two weeks from Election Day, Democrats are agonizing about whether two groups of infrequent and liberal-leaning voters will turn out or dash their hopes of winning control of Congress: Hispanics and young Americans.

High turnout among Latinos and millennials is "absolutely pivotal" to the party’s prospects "and it’s of major, major concern," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "I worry about whether we as Democrats have invested in the infrastructure we need to really mobilize that vote in 2018."

The party and its supporters have an urgent push underway to get those voters to the polls. A digital ad campaign launched Monday by Democratic groups Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action aims to mobilize those blocs. A recent video features former President Barack Obama telling people that their failure to vote empowers politicians to ignore issues they care about. Voto Latino and NextGen America, a group funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, are working to register Hispanics and young people respectively.

Polls, fundraising and independent analysts suggest that Democrats are poised to make significant gains on Nov. 6 that could give them a majority in the House. Republicans retain an advantage in the Senate as Democrats have to defend 26 of the 35 seats on the ballot in 2018, including 10 in states where Trump won in 2016.

Democratic Targets

But low Hispanic turnout could sink Democrats in some House races the party sees as part of its path to the majority. There are 31 GOP-held districts where Latinos are at least a quarter of the population, according to the Census Bureau, including those held by Republicans Steve Knight and Jeff Denham of California, Will Hurd and John Culberson of Texas and Carlos Curbelo of Florida. All are major targets for Democrats.

"It’s just a really, really big question about who’s going to turn out to vote," Lake said. "We could lose Senate seats over it. We could lose -- the margin in the House could be greatly reduced. There are a good 15 seats where the millennial and Latino vote make a huge difference, could be the margin of victory."

Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager for Donald Trump who has kept in touch with the president, said there’s a high degree of uncertainty about who’ll turn out in two weeks.

Midterm Drop Off

Democrats Agonize: Will Enough Millennial and Hispanic Voters Turn Out?

"I don’t think anybody can predict what’s going to occur in the November election," Lewandowski, adding that "there is always a drop-off" in midterm elections. "The question is how much of a drop-off and which places."

Trump’s rhetoric and policies against illegal immigration and attempts to cut legal immigration have stoked his Republican base and in the final weeks before the election he’s returned to the issue. He’s threatened to cut off aid to three Central American countries because of a caravan of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. is attempting to travel to the southern border through Mexico.

While that’s angered some Hispanic activists, it’s unclear whether it will create a backlash that will drive more Hispanic and Latino voters to the polls on Election Day.

Democrats see some signs of optimism. A NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released Sunday found 71 percent of Latinos registered high interest in the midterms, a jump from the 49 percent of Latinos who said that in mid-September. Among voters under 35, the poll said 51 percent expressed high interest, below the 65 percent average for all registered voters.

Historical Trend

But the uncertainty haunts Democrats. Signs of hope ahead of previous midterm elections didn’t translate at the ballot box with Latinos and young voters, who largely stayed home in 2014, 2010 and 2006. The historical trend in non-presidential elections is that voters are older, white and married, demographics that benefit Republicans.

In 2014, Hispanics made up 25.1 percent of eligible voters but just 6.8 percent of the electorate, according to data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. In 2010, they accounted for 21.3 percent of eligible voters and 6.6 percent of the electorate. In 2006, a strong year for Democrats, they were 17.3 percent of eligible voters and just 5.6 percent of the electorate.

“It’s not unusual for Latino and young voter turnout to fall disproportionately in midterms, and we’re seeing that this year,” said David Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Limiting Gains

As a result, “Democrats are not seeing the same magnitude of a wave” in places like south Texas, parts of the Central Valley of California and possibly South Florida, he said. “That’s part of the reason why the Arizona and Nevada Senate races are very close right now, instead of slam dunks for Democrats. So that’s limiting their gains a bit.”

Many Democrats are optimistic about winning upscale suburban districts with lots of college-educated white women, who appear mobilized against the GOP. That includes seats held by Republicans like Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Mimi Walters of California. Winning enough of those districts may carry the party into the majority.

A survey conducted in September Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, found that 34 percent of Americans ages 18-24 were "extremely likely" to vote. If if they do, it would far exceed turnout levels in prior midterms.

More Engaged

The poll found other signs that young people are becoming more politically engaged. Compared to 2016, young people expressed more optimism about their power to bring about political change, and increasingly saw their friends getting politically active, which in turn made them want to do so.

"We are definitely seeing some signs and signals that this is an unusual midterm year," said Abby Kiesa, director of impact at CIRCLE. "Young people are seeing other young people involved. There’s a culture of engagement happening, outreach happening, and people thinking about young people more."

Lake said young voters are “very, very fired up, but the question is: Are they fired up for the next protest or for the next election?"

Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist and pollster, said women are at the forefront of the Democratic Party’s strength in this election, fueled by "a really wide gap among college-educated women" that favors the party. But she said there’s no historical precedent for what will happen if Democrats win women voters by a huge margin and, as polls also suggest will happen, Republicans win men narrowly.

"That’s not how these patterns usually work," Omero said. "So that would be something new. That’s another piece of the uncertainty."

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