Knowing who Pauline Kael was I was interested by the phrase and guessed that it had something to do with a critic who is out of touch with real life - or some such thing.
Sure enough, the phrase originates from a quote attributed to Kael after the 1972 landslide that Richard Nixon won over George McGovern. She was reported to have said something like: "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!"
Only, she didn't say it just like that.
A little digging revealed very little at first [There are 8 links that come up in Google as of this post].
Then I found a blog comment referring to a 1972 New York Times article. It said this:
"'I live in a rather special world,' Miss Kael said, continuing: 'I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them.'"
Now, in context this makes sense. She lived in New York and frequently went to New York City - one of the more liberal cities in America.
But, ultimately, this Republican meme - as it is used - is without merit because she didn't actually say it the way they understand it.
Plus, she was not out of touch. She very well knew where she lived and what her friends and connections thought and politically expressed. The comment: "But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them" is the one that could be problematic since it could be construed as a bit condescending - but she very well could have been joking. So we'll give her that.
Look, someone was kind enough to put Kael's blurb reviews online.
I always get a laugh out of a line she wrote about Frank Capra's 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington':
No one else can balance the ups and downs of wistful sentiment and corny humor the way Capra can--but if anyone else should learn to, kill him.