How Social Media Contributes to the Fragmentation of the Political Parties

This NYT story describes AOC’s intervention in Democratic primaries to attempt to take down Democratic incumbents, including from within the NY Democratic delegation of which she is a part. The story’s emphasis is on these unusual internecine conflicts in the primaries, and what they reveal about the intense divisions within the Democratic Party. But keep in mind, AOC is in her third year in Congress. The reason she has what the story calls “muscle and fund-raising savvy” that “could be a major factor in the race” is the rise of social media, and her effective use of it. In a prior generation, it would have been inconceivable that a third-year member would try to take out a same-party incumbent, let alone that they would be able to have such a strong potential influence on the contest. This is one example of why I think social media is having such a profound effect on democratic politics, even apart from more conventional concerns about disinformation and the like.

Here’s an excerpt from the NYT story:

Sean Patrick Maloney is a Democratic Party stalwart who declares himself a “practical, mainstream guy.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a political outsider-turned-left-wing star with a powerful social media megaphone.

Perhaps no two House Democrats better represent the dueling factions of a party at war with itself — over matters of ideology and institutions, how to amass power and, most of all, how to beat Republicans. Mr. Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley-area district, is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tasked with protecting incumbents and making him a pillar of the establishment. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the Bronx and Queens, has made it her mission to push that establishment to the left, one endorsement of a liberal challenger at a time.

The two forces collided this week when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez handed her endorsement to Mr. Maloney’s primary opponent, Alessandra Biaggi, a left-leaning state senator with a political pedigree. It is often frowned upon for incumbents of the same party to back primary challengers, and it is especially unusual within a state’s delegation. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who toppled a Democratic incumbent herself in 2018, has never been one to abide by such rules, and her muscle and fund-raising savvy could be a major factor in the race.

The move turned a contest already filled with powerful New Yorkers and divided loyalties into a messy national Democratic proxy battle. There are clear tensions on issues that have divided the moderate and left wings of the party, including public safety, Medicare for All and fund-raising tactics. Driving those disputes are more existential questions, like how to pursue political survival in a climate that appears increasingly catastrophic for the party in power.

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