In July 2018, Leo Hernandez, a 23-year-old law student at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, joined millions of other millennial and Generation Z voters in helping Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador secure a landslide victory in Mexico’s presidential election. Hernandez was excited about the possibility of helping to elect the country’s first leftist president in recent history. And given his plans to return to his home city of Tijuana after graduation, he was particularly attracted to the attention Lopez Obrador was paying to state-level politics.

“He was moving away from acting like Mexico City was the only place that matters,” Hernandez told me in an interview about his initial enthusiasm for AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is known.

Hernandez joined his university’s chapter of Morena—an acronym for Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement, launched in 2014—even though the school, often called the…

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