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Rural social-media users in six swing states are still intensely focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, but a gradual decline in the number of posts on the topic may indicate growing acceptance of the impact the virus is having daily life.
Criticism of President Donald Trump for the way he is handling the crisis continues to be the largest category of political discussion in the study, which analyzes publicly posted social media about Covid-19 from rural counties in the battleground states of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
This is the third Daily Yonder article on the study. The report is released weekly by One Country, a 501(c)4 organization that says it is trying to get Democrats to do a better job reaching rural voters. The research for the report is produced by Impact Social, a firm that specializes in social-media analysis. This report covers the period April 20-17, 2020.
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Fewer Posts on Covid-19
The number of posts from rural social-media users about Covid-19 remains high, the researchers said. But volume has declined by about 40% since the study began in mid-March.
“This suggests that people are slowly coming to terms with their new lives and … people are adjusting to their current reality and are less consumed with the issues,” the report said.
In the posts that focus on politics, anti-Trump sentiment constitutes about half of the traffic. That’s roughly on par with the volume of anti-Trump posts since early April. “Many remain extremely angry at the president’s perceived failure to lead during the coronavirus crisis, while the more partisan simply state they don’t believe a word he says,” the report states.
About a third of the posts criticizing President Trump in the last week focused on his reference to disinfectant and the coronavirus.
The researchers said the decline in the number of public social-media post from the rural counties in the study has given Trump supporters a bit of a bump.
“Less chatter has led to a slight rebound in sentiment toward President Trump as fewer people go online to vent anger,” the report said.
The researchers also say Trump’s emergency ban on immigration has sparked more positive posts from his base.
Limitations of the Study
While the report tracks overall sentiment about Trump from week to week, a journalism scholar urged caution in using social-media research the way one might use public-opinion polling. Nikki Usher, Ph.D., an associate professor of journalism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said scientific polling takes steps to ensure that people who participate in the poll reflect the overall population. People who post social media publicly don’t necessarily reflect the overall population, so measuring political support via social media won’t necessarily yield numbers that correspond with voter preferences.
Republican strategist Bill Greener expressed similar concerns but said social media can be a way to help identify an overall range of ideas that are making their way into public discussion. Greener said proprietary polling he has seen indicates that rural support of President Trump remains very high.
Other key points in this week’s report include the following:
- The proportion of posts about mental health increased in the last week, to about 10% of the peer-to-peer comments that occur in social media. “While some are able to cope well and offer perspective of brighter days ahead, others seem consumed by the virus as if the walls are closing in.”
- Some people are expressing their desire to see something good emerge from the crisis, hoping for “a fairer, kinder society” and more action to address climate change.
- People are confused by misinformation and apparently conflicting reports about fatality rates.
- Concern about food shortages entered the conversation in the past week. People posting on this topic were especially concerned about the availability of meat.
- Summer vacations are getting put on hold, creating disappointment and a sense of resignation but not anger.
- People are continuing to pay attention to infection rates and fatalities. Many are trying to understand how their state compares to others in managing the pandemic.
- A fight continues between people who wish to see restrictions on movement and economic activity lifted and those who think they are necessary to save lives.
- Personal economic difficulties are part of social-media discussion. “Once again people post desperate pleas for help as they fall through the safety net.”
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.