One quarter of the political comments about the pandemic from rural, swing-state social-media users were about the President Trump’s Tulsa rally. An additional 33 percent of social-media in the study criticized Trump on other topics. (Graphic courtesy of One Country)

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The proportion of rural, social-media posts focused on the politics of the pandemic increased sharply in the most recent study period, which included President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

From June 14-21, nearly half of all personal, public social-media posts about the pandemic originating in rural parts of six swing states dealt with politics. In the previous week, political commentary constituted about one-quarter of all social media in the study. Political comments have averaged about 30% of all comments on each week in the study, which began the week of March 21.

The Tulsa rally occurred June 20, so this week’s report includes discussion on whether holding the rally was prudent, the president’s comments at the rally itself, and the followup to the event.

Also during that time period, Black Lives Matter demonstrations continued to dominate the news.

The study examines public social media posted by individuals in rural parts of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The study is commissioned by One Country, a Democrat-led 501(c)4 organization that is encouraging Democrats to do more to engage rural voters. Social Impact conducts the research for One Country.

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Fifty-eight percent of the political social-media comments criticized the president for some aspect of how he is handling the Covid-19 crisis. Nearly half of those negative comments were about the Tulsa rally.

Rural social-media flashed on comments Trump made at the rally. “[The response to the rally] was made even worse by Trump’s suggestion during the rally that he asked his staff to slow down Covid-19 testing to prevent an increase in the infection rate figures,” the report says.

Another 9 percent of political posts were anti-Republican. Added to the anti-Trump comments, that means two-thirds of political commentary delivered through rural, swing-state social media criticized the current administration and its party.

Criticism of the president appeared to be cooling off before the Tulsa rally. “Trump’s Tulsa rally and speech content has brought his handling of the coronavirus back into full focus,” the report says.

The Economy

In the non-political social-media posts, rural residents expressed concern about their jobs and the economy. “Optimism on the economy is in short supply,” the report said.

“Insecurity is impacting the minds of employees, employers, and the unemployed alike. Changes in lifestyles are also having an impact on relationships and even personalities, with some feeling they have become more introverted.”

While some social-media users are in despair, others are more optimistic. “ Overall, there is a sense of insecurity as to what the future holds.”

Less Focus on the Numbers

Rural residents in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were focusing less on their own Covid-19 numbers and more on what’s happening in other states. During the June 14-21 study period, states like Florida, Texas, and Mississippi were in the news for new outbreaks, while many of the six swing states were seeing declines or stabilization in new-infection numbers. This has changed since the study period. Currently, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are seeing an increase in cases, according to the New York Times. New cases in Minnesota are holding steady, while they are dropping in New Hampshire.

Mask ‘Etiquette’ 

Masks are generating their own social-media hotspot, with those who are pro- and anti-mask lining up to debate.

“There is clearly a dividing line between those who feel a mask is a necessity in disease prevention and those who don’t, which is causing friction within communities.”

Some see masks as an infringement on liberty, while others see them as an essential part of preventing the spread of the pandemic. “Their effectiveness, infringement on liberty, and even mask etiquette is all being discussed throughout the pandemic.”

Conspiracy Theories and More

Other trends in in the report are the following:

  • “While COVID-related conspiracy theories continue to flourish, they are joined by dangerous rumors regarding the demise of Covid-19. This is partly due to a failure of local and federal officials to send out clear and consistent messaging, which has allowed confusion and misinformation to thrive among the populous.”
  • Discussion about infection rates and deaths declined. 
  • The discussion is getting more intense. “Tension seems to be rising between groups who have opposing views about the seriousness of Covid-19. Those who are scared berate those who deny its existence or do little to prevent its spread.”
  • “Confusion is still dominating the conversation on Covid-19. Treatments, testing and social distancing are all being spoke of.”
  • “Mental illness continues to be a persistent topic of conversation during the pandemic with many rural people clearly in need of help.”

More People Posting

For the first time, the number of authors posting social media in rural parts of swing states increased from the previous week, rising from 18,000 to 20,000. Previously, the number of authors dropped every week since the study started the week of March 21.

Also for the first time, the number of posts on the pandemic remained steady, at 47,000. Previously, there have been fewer posts on the pandemic each week of the study.

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 researchers.

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.

The study is not to be confused with a randomized public-opinion poll. Those polls attempt to estimate overall political and social opinions by polling a small and random sample of the larger population. Heidi Heitkamp, the former Democratic senator from North Dakota who is a co-founder of One Country, said the social-media study can help measure broad political trends and the range of opinion being expressed on a particular topics.