The graph shows the proportion of categories of political comments about the coronavirus coming from individuals in rural counties of six battleground states: Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (One Country graphic)

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Donald Trump’s decision to drop his freewheeling coronavirus press briefings has paid off with rural social-media users, according to this week’s rural social-media analysis.

The weekly study analyzes public social media posted by individuals in rural parts of six swing states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The study is commissioned by One Country, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization focused on rural voter outreach for Democrats.

“President Trump enjoyed an increase in his net sentiment for the second week running as he made less controversial statements,” says the study, which was conducted by Impact Social, which specializes in social-media analysis.

Trump’s proportion of positive social-media comments also improved because his supporters remained active online while the overall number of rural social-media posts about the pandemic declined.


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Two weeks ago, April 23, social media lit up with negative comments about Trump following his statement linking disinfectant to coronavirus treatment. In that week’s study, which covered April 20-17, 16% of the political comments criticized the president for his remarks about disinfectants.

Since then, Trump reduced the number of White House briefings and changed their format. The strategy seems to have changed the public social-media comments in rural parts of the six battleground states in the study.

But anti-Trump sentiment has been the largest category of political comment in every report since the study began in mid-March. This week, more than a third of political comments criticize how President Trump is handling the pandemic.

In the political conversation focused on how state governments should respond to the pandemic, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer received “warm praise” but increased scrutiny about her state’s exit strategy from current restrictions.

The volume of public social-media posts on the coronavirus has declined by about half since the study began in mid-March. The most recent study drew from 82,000 posts from 29,000 authors. The first study the week of March 21 drew from 166,000 posts by 54,000 authors. (One Country graphic)

Everyday Conversations

  • The proportion of social-media posters who question the fatality rate of Covid-19 is increasing. These users claim people dying from other causes are being classified as coronavirus fatalities, artificially raising the death rate.
  • “They feel strongly they are being lied to either by the authorities or the media who look ti gain politically or economically from the crisis.”
  • Others vent about people who don’t observe lockdown rules. “They highlight the selfish behavior of those who are unlikely to be harmed by the disease towards those who are not so fortunate.”

Impact of the Pandemic

  • Humor remained an important part of the way people are responding to the impact of the pandemic. But much of the discussion had grim overtones.
  • As people discuss the impact of the virus, “very few of these conversations appear hopeful or optimistic,” according to the study.
  • Social-media users expressed concern about the way the lockdown is affecting their health, both physical and mental.
  • More people are talking about what will happen when lockdowns end. “People seem fearul as to whether the fellow citizens will simply revert back to their old ways and ignore the need for social distancing and personal hygiene.”
  • Economic concerns continued, with renewed focus on the need to find employment or restart businesses.

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.

Limitations

Journalism scholar Nikki Usher, Ph.D., an associate professor of journalism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said studies of social media should not be confused with public opinion polls. Scientific public opinion polls create randomized samples designed to approximate overall voter preferences. Since social-media users are self-selecting, not a random sample, they may or may not reflect overall public sentiment.