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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Modi to Trump, what explains growing popularity of global leaders during coronavirus crisis?

According to a report in Financial Times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to enjoy the highest popularity among all democratic leaders for his response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in India.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: April 2, 2020 2:49:42 pm
Explained: Reading the Donald Trump's visit to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump at Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat. (Source: White House/File Photo)

As governments around the world continue to face an uphill battle against the coronavirus pandemic, several leaders of democratic countries are witnessing a surge in their approval ratings, reports by polling agencies have shown.

President Trump of the US, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain are among the leaders who are being seen more favourably as their respective governments are handling the response to the global outbreak.

According to a report in Financial Times, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to enjoy the highest popularity among all democratic leaders, despite a fall in his numbers in the recent months. He is followed by Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

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Currently, the coronavirus pandemic has caused the most number of infections in the US, and President Trump’s handling of the crisis has been at the receiving end of criticism from various quarters. But this has not hindered Trump’s advance in opinion polls. Through March, Trump’s popularity has improved, with weekly surveys by Economist/YouGov showing the approval of his handling of the pandemic rising by 8 percentage points. His net approval stands at 49 per cent, with 44 per cent disapproving, as per the poll.

PM appreciates Omar Abdullah's call for social distancing following his uncle's death Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation amid the coronavirus outbreak, and announced a 21-day lockdown to contain its spread. (PTI Photo)

Elsewhere in the world, polling numbers have surged by even greater numbers for many leaders. Britain’s Boris Johnson, who won a landslide election victory in December 2019, has seen the highest improvement in popularity among all world leaders. Interestingly, Johnson has been diagnosed with COVID-19 himself, and has been working in isolation. According to the Financial Times report, Johnson’s approval rating has risen by more than 25 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Read | Here’s a timeline on how PM Narendra Modi has responded to the coronavirus outbreak

In Spain, where there have been four general elections in as many years, Prime Minister Sánchez has also seen his favourability on the rise, with 36 per cent of the country defining his leadership as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, as per El País. As per an article in The Washington Post, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys 60 per cent approval, Italy’s Giuseppe Conte and Germany’s Angela Merkel both more 70 per cent, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau 64 per cent.

*Rally ‘round the flag” effect*

The surge in popularity, especially of the US President, has been attributed to the “rally ‘round the flag” effect, a political science concept first articulated by John Mueller in 1970. According to Mueller, a president is able to secure overwhelming support from the people when the country faces a complicated issue, leading to a “rallying around the (country’s) flag”.

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For this effect to be seen, Mueller lays down three conditions: that the problem “is international”, “involves the United States and particularly the President directly”, and is “specific, dramatic, and sharply focused”. While Mueller discussed the concept in the American context, it has been applied globally.

The effect was most notably observed after the 9/11 attacks in the US, after which then-President George W. Bush saw his approval ratings reach 84 per cent. The coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic event on the international level that has involved several governments, is believed to be demonstrating this effect.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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