One legislator, one vote: Nancy Pelosi, AOC and the woke Twitter myth

One legislator, one vote: Nancy Pelosi, AOC and the woke Twitter myth
© Getty Images

The verdict is in. The alleged battle for the soul of the Democratic Party that pits House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Pelosi blasts Trump's 'dangerous' pick for intelligence chief MORE against freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez claps back after article on her dress: 'Sequins are a great accessory to universal healthcare' Democrats working to ensure Trump's second term Ocasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements MORE is a ratings winner. 

And like lots of things that rate well, this feud is entertainment packaged up as an indication of the leftward drift of the party… when the reality is quite the opposite. 

Pelosi’s comments make clear what Democrats have been saying since the 2016 primary results came in: The strength — and votes — of the Democratic Party aren’t coming from far-left progressives, but the center-left coalition that backed Hillary Clinton and won the party back control of the House in 2018. 


Of course, the “shots fired” coverage is compelling. 

By way of background, in a weekend interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd about the $4.6 billion border-funding bill that Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and three of her colleagues voted against, Pelosi (D-Calif.) said: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.” Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts were the only Democrats to vote against the House spending package. 

AOC responded to the speaker’s criticism via Twitter: “That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment. And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country.”

But the theater of this is really in Pelosi saying the quiet part out loud: AOC’s views are not mainstream. Elections aren’t won on social media; they’re won at the ballot box. And importantly for Democrats, their voters are quite unlikely to be following along on Twitter. 

Recent data from the Hidden Tribes Project found that, by a ratio of 2 to 1, outspoken liberals who post online are outnumbered by moderate, less-educated Democrats who don’t post online. The Democratic electorate on social media is only 13 percent moderate, as opposed to 24 percent in real life. Progressive activists account for 39 percent of the social media-active Democratic base, but only 22 percent of the party identifies as such off social media. 


And perhaps most important, 11 percent of Democrats on social media are African American, as opposed to 24 percent of Democrats outside the social media bubble. As the core voting base for the Democratic Party, this finding cannot be ignored. 

Taken together, it doesn’t sound like Pelosi was so far off in her comments. Her thinking is borne out through a couple of important examples.

While the 2018 midterm elections netted Democrats 40 seats in the House, all seats are not created equal. The real winners were moderate candidates, flipping 35 of those 40 seats for Democrats by campaigning on smart fixes for ObamaCare and making the economy work for middle- and lower-class Americans. Membership in the New Democrat Coalition — a working group of moderate Democrats — grew by over 30. Their core policies regularly boast bipartisan support, a far cry from the voting patterns of the four Democrats who said “nay” to Pelosi’s border package bill. 

There’s also lots of evidence that current frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden is working from the same playbook as Pelosi. In the most recent polling, Biden maintains his edge, despite a lackluster debate performance in Miami at the end of June.

Though the size of his lead varies based on the poll, it’s clear that the most prominent moderate platform in the race — which includes a vigorous defense of ObamaCare and pledge to reinstate President Obama’s climate change plan — is still capturing Democratic voters’ attention. 

Moreover, the latest ABC/Washington Post poll contained a critical nugget: among registered voters, Biden is the only Democratic candidate to beat President Trump in a head-to-head match-up outside the margin of error. He leads by 10 points, while Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lead by a statistically insignificant 2 and 1 percentage points, respectively, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Peter Buttigieg are tied with the president. 

In an election where Democrats, especially African Americans and voters over age 45, are focused on issues of electability, one can see how Biden is hanging on to his frontrunner status despite activists pushing in different directions. 

Pelosi and her leadership team know there are no big wins to be had from tacking too far left. Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Pelosi swatted down Ocasio-Cortez. You may recall her response in February when she was asked about AOC’s Green New Deal: “It will be one of several, or maybe many, suggestions we receive. The ‘green dream,’ or whatever they call it — nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”

The truth is, AOC and her progressive allies never have served in the minority party or tried to govern as such. They don’t have the perspective Pelosi does. Having the majority in the House is a blessing — and a fragile one at that. AOC’s seat may be safe but that of Rep. Lucy McBath  (D-Ga.), for example, is far from it

Throwing left-wing bombs shows a lack of understanding and experience that is central to what Democrats have achieved and need to do for 2020. It follows that what’s important to glom onto is the underlying message Pelosi is communicating: Results are the only thing that matters and these kinds of distractions do nothing to advance our cause. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.