After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Joseph Crowley in the democratic primary in New York’s 14th District, traditional news outlets were asking, who is she?
Many believed Crowley, the Democratic Caucus Chair, was a shoo-in for the spot. Even after Ocasio-Cortez declared her candidacy, she was overlooked by most traditional news outlets and rarely mentioned by name. So, how did she gain engagement in media and rise to popularity?
To answer this question, we dove into the data using NewsWhip Analytics.
We examined Ocasio-Cortez’s popularity on social through engagement about her across platforms, and we found what traditional news outlets might have missed: more than two months before election day, Ocasio-Cortez’s average social media engagement levels had far surpassed Crowley’s.
For the six months leading up to the election, the average web engagement to articles that featured Ocasio-Cortez grew steadily, yet remained fairly tied with average engagement about Crowley. But by April, she surpassed him and stories about Ocasio-Cortez steadily gained more web engagement than those about Crowley.
Although engagement about both candidates grew in the final weeks before the election, Ocasio-Cortez’s engagement remained significantly above Crowley’s.
Most of the web articles about Ocasio-Cortez didn’t come from traditional news outlets, but rather from many smaller and younger publications. After her win, traditional outlets received backlash for overlooking Ocasio-Cortez’s rise to popularity.
Notably, former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson criticized the Times on Twitter for not covering her campaign sooner.
The lack of coverage of her campaign was perhaps most clear after the ballot boxes closed – the next morning CNN, NPR, the New York Times, CBS, and Fox News all ran headlines that included the question, “Who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” – a headline that the Times later changed.
The Times’ profile on Ocasio-Cortez noted the campaign had not been covered by most traditional news outlets, mentioning,“Before Tuesday’s victory catapulted her to the front of the political conversation, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seemed to find readier audiences with outlets such as Elite Daily, Mic or Refinery29 — websites most often associated with millennial and female audiences — than with mainstream publications.”
This was followed by further criticism of the Times for being disconnected from the majority of media-consumers. The Times then changed “mainstream” to “traditional”.
Because traditional news outlets mostly did not cover Ocasio-Cortez before her win, the outlets that gained top engagement for content about her before the election are starkly different than those that did afterwards. For the months leading up to the election, the publishers that gained the most engagement for stories on Ocasio-Cortez were newer outlets like the Intercept and Mic.
Only after Ocasio-Cortez won her district did traditional outlets like CNN and the Times start publishing stories about her and topping the charts of the most-engaged articles about her.
Ocasio-Cortez’s own following on social also reveals how she gained traction during her campaign. The campaign video that she posted on Twitter has more than 3.2 million views while Crowley’s had just 17.3 thousand.
Further, on election day she posted a vlog-style post to Instagram encouraging people to vote that gained nearly 300,000 views. In comparison, Crowley’s election day Instagram post gained 80 likes and did not reference the election at all.
Following her election, Ocasio-Cortez’s engagement on social has only grown. She now has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram and she generates hundreds of likes on each post. Three days after she won the election, she tweeted a picture of her worn-out campaign shoes that was shared more than 61,000 times.
While voting ballots are the ultimate decider of political power, social data can indicate how a vote might turn out. And in the case of NYC’s 14th district, social was telling a clear story: Ocasio-Cortez’s engagement was spiking well above Crowley’s for weeks leading up to the election.
So, who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Well, among many things, she represents a new era of young politicians who are using social media to successfully drive engagement – both online and at the polls.
If you want to see how key words and key players are performing on social, take a tour of NewsWhip Spike here.
Rebecca Redelmeier is an editorial intern at NewsWhip. She thinks magic happens when great data-wrangling meets great storytelling.