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Democrats, don't try to win the Twitter primary. Going viral could be lethal at the polls.  4 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

#UhOh. To Democratic presidential candidates posting their avocado toast recipes on Twitter, here’s some bad news. The online primary you’re conspicuously trying to win incisive-tweet-by-incisive-tweet in no way resembles the real world of voters who cast actual ballots to choose flesh-and-blood delegates in state primaries and caucuses.

So says the impeccably nonpartisan, nonideological More in Common organization in their survey of 8,000 Americans on their political views and habits, including use of social media. As anyone (like me) who spends way too much time on Twitter proving how clever we are knows, there are very few moderates and mainstream progressives prowling the virtual Twitter jungle. The Twitterverse is best suited for stridency, ideological extremes and virtual shaming.

As Democratic 2020 hopefuls play to the Twitter crowd, the stridency and shaming is not the problem. It is those on the ideological extremes who reward candidates for taking positions that will doom them in the general election against President Donald Trump — and may punish them first in the primaries, where “the views of Democrats on social media often bear little resemblance to those of the wider Democratic electorate,” as Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy write in The New York Times.

As the More in Common study points out, Democrats who do not post political content on social media are half as likely to self-identify as moderates (29% compared with 53% of other Democrats) and half as likely to be African-American (11% to 24%). Those who do post political content are four times more likely to have attended a political protest (28% to 7%), and three times as likely to have donated to a campaign (45% to 14%). But they are also a far smaller group, outnumbered about 2 to 1 — proving that volume in decibels is not the same as volume in size.

We found the same thing in our March poll of 1,200 likely Democratic primary voters. Just 10% in our survey were frequent Twitter users, while 73% don’t use Twitter at all. Predictably, this small cadre of Twitter users stood far to the left of those who skip the social media platform. While 34% of Twitter users in our survey prefer a Democratic nominee who identifies as a democratic socialist, just 19% of non-Twitter users agree. While 33% of Twitter users want the nominee to move further left to excite the base, only 17% of non-Twitter users agree. 

And Twitter users are roughly 20 points more favorable than non-Twitter users on some of the most progressive policy proposals under discussion, like single-payer health care, abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and a guaranteed federal job.   

With no real election barometers beyond quarterly fundraising reports between now and the Iowa caucuses, the primary contest has devolved into the number of Twitter followers, viral moments and online likes that candidates are generating. And while it’s true that “likes” can turn into online donations that can add up and really matter in a campaign, there is a price for turning likes into loves: taking positions that work like a charm online but could reelect Trump.

There may be no better example than "Medicare for All," which has become an online litmus test sensation. By now, most of us are aware how support for Medicare for All crumbles when voters of all ideologies hear critiques. This is why practically no Democrat who competed in 2018 in a swing congressional district ran on it. Yet despite myriad progressive health care plans to cover everyone, Democratic presidential hopefuls are twisting themselves into Gordian knots to demonstrate their simultaneous support and reluctance for Sen. Bernie Sanders' plan. Thank you, Twitter.

This is not going unnoticed by Republicans. Steven Law, who runs a GOP super PAC for Senate races, warned that Democratic candidates “can try to hide, but we will make certain voters understand that Democrats are lining up behind abolishing private insurance, ruining Medicare, restricting medical choices, raising taxes on hardworking families, and exploding the deficit.” Normally, charges like this in Republican ads don’t work. But if we follow the whims of the Twitterverse, they might.


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