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Conservative media’s war on AOC is hammering her poll numbers

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s national poll numbers are pretty bad — and conservative media attacks appear to be a key reason why.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a.k.a. AOC.
Lars Niki/Getty Images/The Athena Film Festival
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the social media star and self-identified democratic socialist, is fairly unpopular around the country.

A Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday morning found that 23 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the member of Congress, while 36 percent had an unfavorable view — a -13 overall approval rating. Thirty-eight percent hadn’t heard enough about her to have an informed opinion.

This new poll isn’t a one-off finding. Three prior surveys — one in January from Morning Consult, one in February from Fox, and a third in mid-March from Gallup — all found that more Americans had negative views of AOC than had positive ones. This might surprise a lot of Democrats, who see all of her viral clips and impressive performances in congressional hearings and assume she’s a popular rising star.

So what’s going on? Ocasio-Cortez herself has a preferred explanation — that she’s been vilified on Fox News and in other conservative outlets, and they’ve driven her national approval rating down. If this theory is right, then you’d expect her negative favorables to be driven almost entirely by Republicans detesting her and everyone else not being as familiar with her.

And that appears to be exactly what is happening.

How conservative media is dragging down AOC’s poll numbers

If you look at the detailed breakdown of the latest poll, from Quinnipiac, you’ll see that Ocasio-Cortez is viewed extremely favorably among Democrats: 47 percent view her favorably and 7 percent view her unfavorably. By contrast, she’s viewed overwhelmingly unfavorably among Republicans: A scant 2 percent view her favorably while 74 percent view her unfavorably.

The most striking partisan gap is how many people in each party are familiar with her.

A large number of Democrats — 44 percent — haven’t heard enough about her to have an opinion. A much smaller percentage of Republicans — 23 percent — can say the same. AOC is simply better known among Republicans than Democrats, and this is driving her unfavorables up.

There are a number of reasons why this could be the case. Her overall political message is pretty polarizing, and it’s not surprising that this would turn off Republicans especially. But disproportionate attention to her in conservative media seems to be a major part of the story.

The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump analyzed Fox News segments between January 1 and February 15 of this year, comparing the number of segments mentioning AOC to those focusing on at least one of the Democratic 2020 presidential candidates. It turns out she got more coverage on Fox than any candidate save one, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is also a right-wing boogeyman. Ocasio-Cortez got significantly more Fox News coverage than fellow democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.

It’s astonishing that a Democratic backbencher could get this much attention and get so famous at the beginning of her first term. It’s a testament to how much of a phenomenon she is on the Democratic left — and how much the right seems to both hate and fear her.

In an interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, AOC characterized all the media attention as exhausting and borderline dangerous.

“I’ve got a full-time job in Congress and then I moonlight as America’s greatest villain, or as the new hope. And it’s pretty tiring,” she said. “This ravenous hysteria — it’s really getting to a level that is kind of out of control.”