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Rural social-media users are getting tired of talking about the Covid-19 pandemic. That may be a bit of good news for Donald Trump, who is the brunt of most of the political discussion about the pandemic that remains.
The number of rural, social-media posts from swing states about the pandemic declined for the week of June 7-14. Of the 47,000 posts made, less than a quarter were political. Impact Social, the analysts who produced the report, say that is probably an indication that the pandemic is becoming less of a hot topic and more routine for Americans.
But the political debate that continues is as anti-Trump as it’s ever been. Fifty-eight percent of the political comments were anti-Trump, a level we haven’t seen since mid-April when Trump got harsh criticism for suggesting that injecting disinfectant might be a way to combat Covid-19.
“A perceived mishandling of the coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests result in a huge outburst of anger and abuse directed towards the president,” the analysts write. “People are also disgusted by Trump’s handling of the economy and his decision to press ahead with political rallies –thereby putting his supporters at risk from the disease.”
The proportion of pro-Trump comments remained steady from the last week, at 9%.
The period of the study ended a few days before the Trump rally in Tulsa.
The social-media analysis is commissioned by One Country, a 501(c)4 organization led by Democrats who want to reach rural voters. The study examines publicly posted social media originating in rural parts of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – states where the 2020 election is likely to be determined.
The study is now in its 12th week. Three months of pondering the pandemic is wearing down rural social-media users. Besides an overall reduction in social-media posts, the proportion of those posts battling over political topics is waning. For this period, only about a quarter of comments discussed pandemic politics.
That’s probably a good thing for Trump. “This suggests the heat may be relenting for Trump as attention of rural people is being diverted elsewhere and/or they are adjusting to the new normal,” the analysts write.
But the pandemic is far from over, and rural social-media users are worried about a second wave. For the second week, the Black Lives Matter protests have elicited mixed responses, with some worried that the demonstrations will spread the virus and others saying the importance of the issue justifies the action.
Social-media users continued to share information about the spread and prevention of Covid-19, including comments on the drug Remdesivir and the effectiveness of face masks. Mental health remained a concern. And people continued to post about contracting the disease or knowing someone who has died from Covid-19, countering claims that the pandemic is a political hoax.
Citizens are also focused on the economic implications of the pandemic. “Talk about jobs and businesses is mixed,” the analysts write. “Plenty are clearly suffering having done the right thing in lockdown and now feel they are have been left destitute.”
Another set of posts asks questions about the bail-out legislation and exactly who got the billions in relief targeted for small business. “They … question the criteria and call for transparency as to who exactly received the financial lifelines which were promised.”
How the Study Was Conducted
The study’s methodology combines big data and algorithms with randomized sampling and human analysis.
The study uses publicly available social-media posts from blogs and big platforms like Facebook and Twitter that are geocoded to the rural counties in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The researchers filter the posts to “focus solely on the views of local citizens,” according to the report. The researchers say their methodology identifies original posts and removes reposts and posts generated by bots.
From this universe of posts, the researchers pull a randomized sample. In the final stage, humans read the sample of social-media posts and categorize them based on their content.
Scholars caution that studies of social media cannot be used like randomized public opinion polls, which attempt to predict voting behavior.