"Generally, people running these campaigns have a bias towards organizing and talking to the richer kids who are going to residential colleges, who are more accessible," said Steyer. "We're trying to make sure we are reaching out to people who are not reached out to as much."
Getting those young voters, who are disproportionately liberal, to the polls could make the difference in what are expected to be tight races for two Central Valley congressional seats currently held by Republicans Jeff Denham and David Valadao. According to Census Bureau data, their districts have higher percentages of millennial residents than any of the five GOP congressional seats the liberal group is targeting in Southern California. A third of voting-age residents in Denham's Modesto-area district are 35 years old or younger. That figure climbs to 38 percent in Valadao's district, which runs along the I-5 corridor just to the west of Fresno and Bakersfield.
Denham won his 2016 race by 10,000 votes, Valadao by just under 20,000. An increased rate of voting by liberal-leaning young voters in 2018 could significantly erode both those margins.
It would also counter historical trends, however. Even with the surges in 2016 registration and turnout, the 18-to-35 year-old age group still lags previous generations. As of August 2017, 60 percent of the state's millennials were registered to vote, compared to 78 percent of Baby Boomers, the Public Policy Institute of California found. And less than a third of millennials said they were likely to vote.
Steyer, however, thinks the current political stakes have shaken young people out of their typical off-year complacency. He points to the results in Virginia's statewide elections last fall, which saw turnout among 18-to-29 year-old voters rise 8 percent compared to 2013 and double what it was in 2009. NextGen America spent $3.3 million on a youth voter turnout program in the commonwealth that included 26 campus programs and 60 total staff--comparable to what it's doing in California.
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"I asked the people on our team, 'is Virginia replicable?' And they said 'yes,'" Steyer said. But he acknowledged, "The proof of the pudding will be in the eating."
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