(CNN)The conversation around the 2020 presidential race last week followed the candidates to Kenosha, Wisconsin, while a headline-grabbing report that the President disparaged military veterans made a swift impression on the public.
According to The Breakthrough — a project from CNN, SSRS and researchers from Georgetown University and the University of Michigan assessing what Americans have heard, read or seen about Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump — more reported hearing news relating to Kenosha or race relations than any other topic for either candidate.Both Trump and Biden made trips to Kenosha last week following unrest and protests after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back multiple times by police there. Kenosha itself was the top word used when Americans were asked what they had heard, read or seen about the President, and it was second on the list for Biden. Trump’s top words also included “visit” and “Wisconsin,” though nothing about Blake himself following the trip in which he toured damage to the city after unrest but did not meet with Blake or his family. On Biden’s list, Blake was a more prominent feature, landing third on the list, with “visit,” “family,” “Jacob” and “Wisconsin” all in the top 20.In Trump’s case, news about his Wisconsin trip was closely followed by awareness of a story in The Atlantic reporting that the President called veterans “losers” and “suckers” and expressed disdain for those who were wounded or killed in battle.Read More Americans reporting that they had heard about that story when asked about Trump used a range of different words — “military,” “veteran,” “troops” and the like to refer to the subject, and words like “offensive,” “disparaging,” “disrespectful” and “derogatory” to refer to the things he is reported to have said — so no single word emerges as dominant. But looking at the combined total of all words referring to the story, the topic rises to second on the President’s list of mentioned topics, trailing only his visit to Kenosha.The story appears to have had a more widespread and quick impact on what Americans are hearing about Trump than any other controversial story about the President that has come to light during this project.Over the course of 10 weeks of interviewing, at least 10 Trump-related controversies have bubbled up within the data, but none have had the reach The Atlantic’s story has registered in just a few days of interviewing. Overall, there have been 1,605 mentions of one Trump controversy or another since late June. With 138 mentions this week, the Atlantic story is already more mentioned than all but two of the other tracked controversial topics. The story itself broke last Thursday, in the middle of the survey’s Tuesday through Sunday field period, suggesting these results may only capture the beginning of its impact. And early indications are that awareness of the story is closely connected to negative sentiment toward Trump.Overall, the survey results suggest a steep negative turn in sentiment toward Trump in the words used to describe what they have seen, read or heard about him. On average, the words used in responses about Trump are more negative in the most recent data than they have been at any prior point. The shift in Biden’s sentiment this week is far smaller. All told, the tone of the words used to talk about this story tilt negative, and that itself responsible for more than half of the overall dropof the overall drop in Trump’s sentiment this week. The tenor of the comments remain largely negative even after removing the possible negative impact of words that were part of the story, such as “loser” or “sucker.”Mentions of the military prior to this week were largely sentiment-neutral for both candidates, and they remain so for Biden. But for Trump, the tone of recollections about the military now are far more negative than they have been at any prior point in the survey.The President’s call in North Carolina last week for those who cast absentee ballots to attempt to vote again to make sure it counts also registered among the public. The phrase “vote twice” is the most used two-word phrase in responses about Trump this week, and “vote” is the second most used word overall.Mentions of the coronavirus outbreak in reference to Trump dropped some this week, while they rose for Biden. In Biden’s case, those mentions are often connected to “school,” reflecting his campaign’s focus on schools reopening in last week’s campaign events. For Trump, coronavirus mentions include references to a possible vaccine by year’s end.Overall awareness of news about the candidates held roughly steady in the latest results: About three-quarters reported having heard some news about each candidate (77% for Trump, 74% for Biden).