Are the impeachment hearings moving many rural voters’ opinion of President Donald Trump?
Short answer: they’re sort of not.
Anti-impeachment sentiment has actually gotten stronger amongst rural voters in swing states over the last couple of months.
One Country Project, an organization started by former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp to help Democrats understand how to win again in rural communities, has been monitoring discussions in rural America on social media over the past few months.
They have specifically been looking at posts from geo-located rural voters, trying to get a gauge on how conversations have developed since the impeachment inquiry was launched.
The states that have been monitored as part of this project are Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Their findings reveal that Republican messaging has been incredibly effective in convincing rural voters that the process is a charade and that Democrats are simply trying to get Trump out of the White House — a hill they seem to be very willing to die on.
Method and Key Takeaways
One Country Project produces reports on social media chatter, looking at social media interactions from rural areas of these states, organizing posts based on sentiment and then breaking them down by topic to look at the arguments being made.
Overall, here’s a few key notes:
- Republican leadership’s messaging played a huge role in discussions: when party leaders began calling the inquiry corrupt, so too did those who opposed it. When they questioned the legitimacy, so did their base. When Republican leaders blamed media bias, so too did their base, and when they started calling the inquiry a ‘coup’ in an attempt to unfairly remove the president, so too did their base.
- Pro-Impeachment folks had a hard time saying something that wasn’t inherently viewed as ‘anti-Trump.’ This was the most common discussion topic on pro-impeachment posts; a disdain for Trump, his demeanor, behavior, attempts to obstruct justice, etc. Regardless of the argument about Trump, none of these points seemed to move the needle on opinions of whether or not Trump should be removed.
- Neutral folks recognized this messaging amongst Republican leaders and people who are anti-impeachment. In the last two reports, the influence of Republican leaders, and the concept of Republican echo chambers were the most popular topics on posts neutral on impeachment.
- Leading up to public hearings beginning, pro-impeachment discussion remained largely the same, but anti-impeachment discussion became more focused, more concerned with ‘anti-democracy’ points, and more concerned with specific characters within the Democratic Party.
In their first report that included all of these states, they found a pretty even split. 36% of the interactions were neutral, neither pro or anti-impeachment, 35% were pro-impeachment and 29% were anti-impeachment.
As the other charts in the first report show, the most frequent topic used for anti-impeachment posts was the notion that the inquiry was corrupt (37%). It is important to remember that at this point, in October, any hearings or testimonies were happening in private.
Later in the month, as more information came out, the pro-impeachment sentiment in rural areas of these states took a dip, dropping to 28% of posts. The neutral sentiment went up to 42%, with more people just generally discussing the issues and waiting to see what happened.
The anti-impeachment sentiment stayed roughly the same, with 1% more posts expressing it. However, as went Republican messaging during this period, so too did social media discussions about the inquiry.
In the first report, a notion that the inquiry was corrupt dominated the anti-impeachment social media discussion. To the same tune, with Republicans hitting hard on the hearings happening in private, transparency became a very popular argument.
As the house voted to officially launch impeachment proceedings in November, pro-impeachment sentiment took a hit – dropping to 22% of postings expressing that point of view. Anti-impeachment and a neutral position grew in popularity on social media.
The Passing of Time
As more time passed prior to public hearings, anti-impeachment sentiment continued to grow amongst rural voters. However, this last report concluded just two days before the first official testimony on Nov. 13.
Could hearings be helping to reverse this trend? Maybe. However, given the impact of Republican messaging, it is a tough battle.
Since the impeachment hearings have kicked off, Republicans have continued to call it a ‘coup,’ have effectively demonized Adam Schiff, played off of Nancy Pelosi’s already relative unpopularity, and continued with their opinion that the whole process is corrupt, despite it now being public hearings.
For people who are pro-impeachment, the conversation around impeachment has actually become more organic, One Country’s findings show.
“These people are adamant that Trump be impeached and thrown out of office,” the report states. “They are resolute in their view that the impeachment process is legal and is being conducted fairly, despite interference by the GOP and obstruction from the White House.”
Rather than using talking points from Schiff, Pelosi or other Democrats, pro-impeachment posts seem to have more to do with morality, right and wrong, than they do with any specific piece of evidence or case.
The hearings are now officially underway, and we’re just over a week in. If Democrats lose the messaging battle, and are unable to build public support, regardless of evidence presented, the entire process could look more like walking on egg-shells.
There is already some sentiment that even if the President is impeached, he will not be removed from office. Has there been, or will there be, some ‘bombshell’ revelation that cuts through Republican accusations of a corrupt process? It remains to be seen.
These reports do show, however, that Republican leaders have been more effective than Democratic leaders in building their case to the public, at least in rural areas, thus far.
One Country Project will continue monitoring social media throughout the hearings, and should have another report ready in the coming weeks to see how public testimonies are impacting conversations.
By Josh Cook