How @Ocasio2018 lit up interest in socialism

6th July 2018

In late June, a 28-year-old socialist who had never run for office defeated the 4th most powerful Democrat in the US congress in a primary election.

The upset turned Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a community organizer and waitress from the Bronx with an A+ Twitter game into a rockstar among progressives in the US, who are still searching for a strong, uniting figure to rally behind since Trump took office.

But her win did something else, too: it lit up the public conversation about socialism in the US on social media to incandescent levels.

Mentions of socialism tracked on pulsar trends

 Mentions of “socialism” and “socialist” in the US over the past few weeks, mapped on Pulsar TRENDS

Liberals’ excitement for the win quickly turned into a clear target for conservatives who, along with many a bot, attacked socialism, Ocasio-Cortez, and anyone supporting them.

In a search over June 27-30 of the word “socialism” in the US on Pulsar TRAC, we found a very heavy negative slant to the conversations. Negative sentiment checked in on 40% of posts (compared to just 11% positive), and "disgust" rating highest on our modular emotion analysis, compared to anger, fear, joy and sadness. 

socialism emotional analysis

Emotional analysis around the word 'socialism' in the US in late June 2018


We can also see from the topics discussed in these posts that Ocasio's win became very accusatory - 


topics discussed around socialism searched on Pulsar TRAC

Topics discussed around socialism June 27-30

Part of this immediate reaction has to do with the polarization of political communities in the US: online, even more than in the physical world, lines get drawn almost immediately, and conversations easily escalate.

But that’s not the full story.

Americans have a complex relationship with socialism, an idea that many older Americans tend to associate with communism, also thanks to McCarthyism in the1950s.

Yet the kind of online backlash to socialism we are seeing is not necessarily a bad sign, especially for the words and ideas whose meaning is mutating.

Interest in socialism in the United States has been growing since Bernie Sanders’ very respectable performance in the Democratic primary of 2016, and has skyrocketed since Trump’s election.

And @Ocasio2018, as she is known on the Twitter, has gained about 600,000 followers since her primary election win on June 26th.

It’s not just her. Today, many candidates are embracing the word –which Republicans have long used as a slur– and winning elections across the United States. Commentators from the New York Times say that “Millennial Socialists are coming,” and CNN argues this generation is much more open to socialism:

“More than any other generation before them, Millennials are OK with socialism. A 2016 Gallup poll found 55% of those then aged 18-29 said they had a positive view of it (it's worth noting 57% supported capitalism and 78% supported free enterprise). Compare that with those 65 and older, only 24% of whom had a positive view of socialism. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign was instrumental in mainstreaming Democratic socialism, but Millennials' economic situation also plays a role.”

That might be true. But while certain communities have strong opinion about it, many others –as Merriam-Webster attested– are still confused about what socialism actually means: