Twitter Is a Big Deal in Politics. That Doesn’t Make It Right.


It’s hard to overstate the role Twitter now plays in politics. It’s the president’s favorite form of communication. It’s where public officials make statements, where activists pressure politicians and where reporters announce their latest scoops. It’s where the “conventional wisdom” forms and where our national political narrative is created.

And it’s totally unrepresentative of America.This news probably comes as little surprise to many of you. But for those who are online political junkies, Twitter can be all-consuming — and, if I may be so bold, perhaps perverting how you think about the 2020 race.

“The views of Democrats on social media often bear little resemblance to those of the wider Democratic electorate,” they write. “The outspoken group of Democratic-leaning voters on social media is outnumbered, roughly 2 to 1, by the more moderate, more diverse and less educated group of Democrats who typically don’t post political content online.”

Their big takeaway happens to be our second On Politics rule of 2020: Twitter is not real life. Now, I must admit my personal position as an avowed Twitter skeptic. My experience during the 2016 election was generally unpleasant: As a woman covering Hillary Clinton, the site sometimes felt like a surreal mix of inside jokes, warmed-over hot takes and snark, interspersed with rape threats.

Democrats on Twitter are more liberal

Twenty-nine percent of Democrats who post political content online identify as moderate or conservative; 53 percent of other Democrats say they do.

Democrats on Twitter are whiter

Seventy-one percent of Democrats who post political content online are white; only 55 percent of other Democrats are. Black voters represent around 20 percent of the Democratic electorate nationwide but just 11 percent of Democrats on social media.

Democrats on Twitter are more politically active

Twenty-eight percent of Democrats who post political content online say they’ve attended a protest over the past year; only 7 percent of other Democrats say they have.

Historically, candidates who’ve built their support largely on the backs of the party’s liberals have lost: Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Howard Dean and Bernie Sanders come to mind. The candidates who found support among the Democratic establishment — Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and yes, Barack Obama — won the nomination by getting wider backing.

So what does all this mean for 2020?

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