As California congressional races heat up, will new voters show up?

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Engagement around politics has been surging since President Trump took office, with people protesting or counter-demonstrating, posting on Facebook and consuming large quantities of political news.

But data on registered voters in Orange County — home to some of the most watched congressional races in the country — suggest their participation in the upcoming midterm elections may be lackluster. 

"Every bit of data we have on these voters and their interest in elections is that these are the very voters who will underperform in an election like what we have coming up in 2018," said Paul Mitchell, an expert on California elections and vice president of the data firm, Political Data Inc.

Last November, Orange County voters shocked many election watchers when they voted for Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, after many years of backing GOP candidates for president. 

That shift was fueled by a wave of newly registered voters, largely independents, young adults and people of color, according to Mitchell. 

Data show those groups turn out to vote at lower levels outside of presidential elections. Mitchell said that is likely to happen again in 2018 despite the growth of political engagement in California at organized events and on social media.

"Those emotions don't really translate to stamps on ballots. They don't really translate to going to the polling place on a random Tuesday in the middle of the spring," Mitchell said. "People who are trying to draw a direct line from what happened in 2016 and how progressive that electorate was in these districts ... I think those people are going to be gravely disappointed." 

The June 5 primary election will be the first attempt by Democrats to turn the U.S. House of Representatives from red to blue since President Trump's election. California is seen as key to that effort because of the number of GOP seats in Orange County that may be flippable. 

Failure of the new Orange County voters to turn up in large numbers could benefit the incumbent GOP members of Congress targeted by Democrats.

While 2018 may not bring the voter bonanza that Democrats want, Mitchell said he expects turnout to be much different in 2020 when President Trump’s second term is expected to be on the line. At that point, he said, the state is poised to break voter turnout records.

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