The Rural Buzz: Protests Reinforce Hardened Opinions about Trump

The Daily Yonder | By Tim Marema | June 5, 2020

Rural social-media users who are posting comments about Covid-19 have incorporated the nationwide police-brutality protests into their conversations as one more reason to hate – or love – Donald Trump.

The proportion of posts criticizing and praising President Trump remained roughly the same from the previous week. About half of all political posts coming from individuals in rural parts of six swing states criticize the president, while 7% of these political posts are categorized as “pro-Trump.”

What has changed is the focus of the social-media commentary about how the president has handled the pandemic.

“This situation was made worse due to the civil unrest sweeping America in response to the death of George Floyd,” wrote the authors of the report. “Trump’s aggressive reaction to the situation has exasperated Americans who despise his leadership style and actions.”

But other social-media users said the president is following the right course in dealing with both Covid-19 and demonstrations against racially motivated police violence.

“There are plenty of voters who are happy to defend Trump and praise what they see as decisive action on both issues,” the report says.

This information is from a study of rural social-media posts about Covid-19 in six swing states. The analysis is commissioned by One Country, a 501(c)4 nonprofit led by Democrats that focuses on rural voters, and conducted by Impact Social, which specializes in social-media analysis. The project analyzes public posts from rural counties in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

This week’s report covers the period of May 24-31, during which a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd and demonstrations spread nationwide, including to small cities and towns in rural regions.

The overall number of social-media posts in the study declined by about 20% to 60,000. That number has been dropping consistently since its peak of 166,000 in the first week of the study in mid-March.

But current events are very much at the forefront of the Covid-19 discussion. “Citizens post concerns about how protestors might spread the diseases, while others express broader concern about what Covid-19 and civil unrest mean for America,” the report says.

“Many rural people express sadness at 100,000+ Covid-19-related deaths across America and despair at their president’s combined failure over the disease and civil unrest. However, President Trump is far from alone as supporters rally to his defense.”

Trump supporters continued to question the accuracy of the U.S. death toll and to push for their states to end social-distancing restrictions. Some attacked the left for “using the disease to usher in communism.”

Previous criticism of state governments over their failure to protect nursing homes from the disease was muted, likely because of a shift in focus to civil turbulence, the report says.

Many rural social-media users remain uncertain about how they should personally respond to the threat of Covid-19. “People remain confused due to the overload of contradictory information they receive about the seriousness of Covid-19 and how to prevent/treat the disease.” This has lead to increased distrust of authorities.

Here are other highlights of this week’s study:

  • Politicians are not helping fill the information vacuum and have contributed to the decline in trust.
  • The lack of clear messages about fatality rates has fueled conspiracy theories and added to political divisiveness.
  • Some people worry about a resurgence of Covid-19 from mass protests. Others say they’d like to join those demonstrations but worry about contracting the disease.
  • Civil unrest will contribute to mental health issues that were already arising from the stress people experience from the pandemic.
  • Some social-media users compare the police-brutality protests to demonstrations that occurred to push states to reopen their economies. They question whether there is a double standard at play if one set of demonstrations was allowable and the other was not.

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.