Chaos is a ladder, so the saying goes, and in the current coronavirus emergency some leaders have climbed in the polls, while others have seen their approval ratings drop.
In a recent article, Bloomberg compiled the approval ratings of a selection of G20 nation leaders, comparing poll figures from January 30th and April 5th.
There were major gains for Britain’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, a modest gain for US President Donald Trump and dips for Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
With Europe in need of reassurance and direction, Germany’s Angela Merkel has not been found wanting, her experience helping steer Europe through the 2008 crisis proving invaluable this time round. Her approval rating is up 11 points to 64%.
Used to relying on rhetoric and soundbites, a politician’s actions speak louder than their words in a crisis, and those leaders who have reacted swiftly and decisively to the pandemic have often fared better than those who have sought to play the COVID-19 blame game.
However, this is not always the case: as we wrote in a recent comparative analysis, Johnson and Trump have seen their approval ratings go up despite handling the crisis dangerously poorly. The most obvious reason for the ratings boost is the prevalence of the right-leaning media in both the US and the UK. In the US, as of February 2020, Fox News had 3.5 million primetime viewers; MSNBC and CNN together managed to barely scrape 2.8 million. In the UK, the Sun and the Daily Mail have by far the largest reach among all newspapers; both lean far to the right and frequently sing the praises of the current Conservative administration. The Telegraph, the Times and the Daily Express are also prominent right-leaning papers, with only the Guardian and the Daily Mirror leaning to the left.
Courage of their convictions
After responding to the virus threat by putting his nation into lockdown a week before any other European country, Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte has seen his approval rating jump by 27% percentage points in recent weeks, to over 70%.
Those leaders that have had the courage to go against the grain have also gained the support of the electorate. The Netherands' Mark Rutte and Sweden’s Stefan Löfven have earned double-digit approval rating gains in spite (or perhaps because) of resisting calls to put their countries into lockdown.
By going above and beyond the call of duty, some leaders have seen a surge in popularity. After taking a battering in the recent general election, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has received praised for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. A medical doctor by training, he has re-registered as a physician and is set to work one hospital shift a week for the foreseeable future.