On Politics With Lisa Lerer: Twitter Is Not Real Life

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

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. (I read your notes complaining when we link to too many tweets in this newsletter.)

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.

That’s why I wanted to highlight this excellent analysis published this week by our colleagues Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy.

“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.

But even if your own feed is more hospitable, it’s clear from the data that Twitter’s 280-character window offers a pretty small viewfinder.

It’s worth diving into some of the specifics of what Nate and Kevin found:

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?

As we’ve written before, there’s no question that the Democratic Party has moved to the left in the Trump era.

But what this data signals to us is that the issues driving the social media conversation — like Joe Biden’s touchy-feely style or questions around Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry — may not prove to be quite as significant in the real life of the Democratic primary election.

Speaking of social media, I highly recommend digging through this deep look at the state of privacy by our opinion section. I’ve already bookmarked it for my flight to Des Moines tomorrow morning.

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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A poll of Democratic voters in Iowa released today by Monmouth University gives us another glimpse of how the early 2020 field is shaping up. Here were the top choices, with the percentage of voters who favor them.

Joe Biden: 27 percent

Bernie Sanders: 16 percent

Pete Buttigieg: 9 percent

Kamala Harris: 7 percent

Elizabeth Warren: 7 percent

Beto O’Rourke: 6 percent

After that, Amy Klobuchar was at 4 percent, Cory Booker at 3 percent and Julián Castro at 2 percent. Tied with 1 percent were John Delaney, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, Eric Swalwell and Andrew Yang.

[Read our story on the poll here, and see the numbers for yourself here.]

The poll also asked about some of the biggest policies of the primary. Here are the percentages of voters who said it was “very important or somewhat important to nominate someone who supports _________.”

Green New Deal: 72 percent

“Medicare for All”: 82 percent

Impeaching President Trump: 38 percent

Before you jump to any conclusions about the race, remember: The Iowa caucuses are still 298 days away.

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A “computer glitch” in a Louisiana parish may have left more than 150,000 people — including many born after 1993 — out of a jury roll database, potentially starving young defendants of jurors who were roughly their age.

India’s election is the biggest in history, with nearly 900 million voters set to cast ballots for a new Parliament. Here’s a simple guide to everything you need to know about the vote, which lasts for five weeks.

In The New Yorker, Rachel Aviv writes about the difficulty of going off antidepressants, a struggle millions of Americans face.

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It’s the internet’s new favorite pastime: Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker interviews a subject — today’s installment features the author Bret Easton Ellis — and pokes at them so adroitly that just reading the back-and-forth makes you tense up in your seat. (His style is even becoming a meme.)

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Thanks for reading. Politics is more than what goes on inside the White House. On Politics brings you the people, issues and ideas reshaping our world.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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