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The Most Popular Politicians in America All Have One Thing in Common

The politicians who rack up the most engagement on social media platforms tend to be the ones with the most polarizing views, according to Axios.

SO WHAT

They say Twitter isn’t real life, but it’s increasingly defining our politics.

THE NUMBERS

News articles about Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., receive the most interactions on social media, Axios reported Tuesday, citing exclusive NewsWhip data.

All the politicians on Axios’ top 10 list are known for inspiring strong reactions from supporters and opponents.

  • “Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them to be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive,” wrote Axios’ Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer.

Newswhip’s findings track with national trends.

  • A Generation Lab/Axios poll in December found that nearly 1 in 4 college students wouldn’t be friends with someone whose political views they disagreed with.
  • According to a 2020 study, polarization in the U.S. was increasing at a faster rate than in other democracies.

THE NEW POLITICS?

Donald Trump’s seismic 2016 presidential victory not only upturned the establishment, it may have provided a blueprint for a new kind of politician.

  • According to Axios, “politicians who drive the highest average interactions are often more talked-about by their critics than their fans.”
  • Trump may epitomize the ideal: in 2016 he rode a wave of approximately $2 billion worth of free media coverage – much of it negative – to victory.

One politician who seems to have absorbed the lesson is Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina Republican with a fondness for provocative stunts.

  • Cawthorn said in a Jan. 2020 email to colleagues that he had “built [his] staff around comms rather than legislation,” a statement widely interpreted as signaling his focus on punditry over policy.

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