To Remove or Not to Remove: Where Do Rural Americans Stand on Impeachment?
At the One Country Project (OCP), we strive to make clear how important it is to listen to rural voices — particularly on critical matters of national importance like impeachment. This is why we began our social media listening project to hear what rural Americans are saying about the impeachment charges, proceedings, and implications for President Trump.
Since September, when the House’s impeachment proceedings heated up, OCP has been tracking how rural Americans active on social media — or rural netizens — are discussing the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s manipulation of foreign diplomacy for his personal, political gain.
When we began tuning into rural Americans’ online discussion, anti-impeachment voices across the Heartland were at a deficit. Partisans were firm in their positions, but a large number of citizens were undecided on the issue, still curious about the process and if impeachment was the right course of action.
By the release of our second tracker, Trump’s defenders went from being shell-shocked to producing an echo chamber wedded to GOP talking points. Looking at our third, fourth, and fifth trackers, we saw those talking points turn into a well-oiled public relations campaign that labeled the legal and transparent impeachment inquiry as corrupt, merely distracting from the fact that there’s no defense for the underlying charges — the president’s crooked actions. Over this period, impeachment advocates engaged in a less organized discussion that nevertheless focused on consistent themes, namely President Trump’s clear guilt in their eyes and unfitness for office.
However, though rural netizen allegiance has shifted more towards anti-impeachment over the course of our analyses, our sixth and seventh trackers have demonstrated there is still a large swath of the rural community that is undecided on whether or not removing the president from his position is the right choice. As seen from our data, many rural voters are taking to their keyboards to ask questions about the process and seek out more information — signaling a meaningful number could swing either way.
It’s also clear from the ebbs and flows in the overall volume of discussion, and the prominence of mentions for Chairman Schiff during hearings, Speaker Pelosi during floor votes, and now Senator McConnell, that rural Americans are paying attention to the movements in the process and tuning in at key times.
That’s where Democrats come in.
If the party seeks to break through to rural Americans who have not yet pledged their allegiance to the president, Democrats must begin making a full-throated argument for impeachment based on the substance of the charges — that President Trump abused his office and taxpayer dollars for personal, political gain by trying to persuade a foreign country to open an investigation into his potential 2020 presidential opponent. As more eyes turn to the Senate, Democrats would also be well served to highlight Senator Mitch McConnell’s machinations to coordinate with the White House, shirk his duty to be an impartial juror, and put up roadblocks to hearing from key witnesses or holding a fair trial.
It’s clear that rural Americans are going to keep watching — and posting about — impeachment. Many are still looking for answers. Republican leaders and influencers have been making their case, and impeachment advocates have an opportunity to win more support if they do the same.
Heidi Heitkamp is a former U.S. Senator from North Dakota and co-founder of thee One Country Project.