Rural social-media users in six swing states can’t agree on the facts, much less what those facts mean about the coronavirus pandemic, according to this week’s One Country social media analysis.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump saw a slight reduction in the amount of criticism he received in rural social media posts. Anti-Trump political statements dropped from 50% of all political posts two weeks ago to 44% last week.
The study examines social media posted by individuals in rural parts of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – swing states that will play a decisive role in the 2020 presidential election. The Daily Yonder has been publishing weekly reports on the studies, which are conducted by Impact Social on behalf of One Country, a 501(c)4 nonprofit led by Democrats who want to improve outreach to rural voters.
THE RURAL BUZZ: An Analysis of Rural Social-Media Posts in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Read articles from previous weeks. / Download this week’s study.
The most recent study shows one group of rural social-media users thinks the death toll has been artificially inflated to damage the Trump administration. Another group of rural social-media users says fatalities have been undercounted for the opposite reason.
The discussion occurred during the week of May 17-24, as the official death toll from the coronavirus was edging toward 100,000. Also during the period, scientific studies were released that showed that enacting social-distancing measures sooner could have saved tens of thousands of lives.
For another group of social commentators, the fatality tally didn’t matter even if it is accurate. Their claim is that the fatalities are such a small percentage of the U.S. population that they are not important.
“The people don’t see themselves as heartless, but pragmatic,” the report says. “They are trying to put the total death count into perspective and weigh it against the overall cost of shutting down the economy.”
Confusion, distrust, questionable medical advice, and other signs of informational mayhem cropped up in many different types of social-media messages last week. One of the issues has been the apparently contradictory information that has come from official sources such as medical researchers and the Centers for Disease Control.
Information that has contributed to that confusion includes revelations that more people than originally thought have contracted the virus but remained asymptomatic, that children are susceptible to the virus when it was originally thought that they were more resistant to it, and that many people who contracted the disease blamed their illness on another cause.
“People have little understanding of what is going on,” according to the researchers.
Anti-Trump posts remained the largest category of messages in rural users’ political discussion about the coronavirus.
“There is no escaping the strong accusation online that Trump delayed taking action (and instead played golf) to lessen the spread of the disease – a view backed up by recent studies,” the report says.
Pro-Trump social-media users pushed back by attacking Democratic governors in the six swing states. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were criticized by rural social-media users for prolonging their states’ lockdowns and for the high number of deaths in nursing homes.
“Trump’s figures improved due to his base rallying to his defense,” the study said. “Riled by the constant criticism of their president, his supporters blame the media for biased reporting over the president’s use of hydroxychloroquine and remind people that Trump did not create the virus.”
The number of posts about Covid-19 from rural swing-state residents continued to decline, though it is still the major topic of discussion. The number of posts dropped to 76,000 last week from 84,000 the week before. The number of posts is less than half what it was in mid-March.
Other highlights of this week’s One Country report included the following:
- Rural Michigan residents were overwhelmed by disastrous flooding from dam collapses, on top of concerns about Covid-19.
- “People who have been affected by the virus are showing anger towards those who continue to flaunt the regulations.”
- “People are understandably annoyed that mainstream and social media are awash with conflicting advice from so-called experts.”
- Confusion about the impact of the virus “is made worse by contradictory studies into infection rates and death forecasts which fuel confusion and irritation.”
- Economic pressure on families is building. Many people are realizing how their employment hinges on the health of other sectors of the economy.
- Rural social-media users are warning each other about Covid-19 scams that are taking advantage of the crisis.
Overall sentiment toward the president improved last week. Trump’s “net sentiment” (shown in the graph above) is the difference between positive and negative statements about the president. This figure now stands at minus 33, an improvement of 13 points for the president compared to the previous week.
How the Study Was Conducted
The study was conducted for One Country by Impact Social. The firm’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.
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.