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30 Mar, 2020 17:36

The Action-Men of politics, Trump, Johnson & Modi, are enjoying soaring popularity ratings, while others are floundering

The Action-Men of politics, Trump, Johnson & Modi, are enjoying soaring popularity ratings, while others are floundering

Decisive action over Covid-19 has led to soaring approval ratings for populist leaders, in sharp contrast to the fortunes of other heads of state. Could that encourage rash decisions and unnecessary risk-taking?

No-one ever thought we’d arrive at a point in time where the health of the entire population of the United Kingdom lays in the hands of a guy whose most memorable public photo was of him dangling in the air like a piñata, stuck mid-zip on a zipwire waving a pair of Union Jacks during the launch of an Olympics fun-ride.

Just as weird, elsewhere, would the well-being of 330 million Americans be determined by an outrageously orange bloke with a comb-over who spent 15 years as the star of a reality TV programme telling dimwitted wannabes “you’re fired!”

And perhaps even more bizarrely, in the world’s second most populous country, upon launching his reaction to a global pandemic, a leader who enjoys cult-like popularity would tell 1.2 billion Indian people to stand on their doorsteps and make a racket banging pots and pans, a call which quickly led to pseudo-scientific claims on social media that the vibrations combined with the right planetary configurations would destroy a killer virus. Genius idea!

While some of these scenarios have an almost dreamlike quality to them, the reality is that these leaders are winning growing support with every move they make. I mean, who woulda thunk it?

There is absolutely nothing like a crisis to bring out the best in a populist leader.

They were all – Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi – elected as men of action.

They sold an idea of themselves to the electorate as chaps who get things done. For Boris it was Get Brexit Done. For Trump: Make America Great Again, and in India: Modi Makes It Possible.

To the people that vote for them, these guys are the ultimate crisis managers. Wise problem-solvers who can protect their people against the worst the world has to offer. In return for their skills, we are quite happy to give them our votes and to put our lives in their hands.

Bumper approval ratings await and, while any leader welcomes those, this path is not totally without peril. It might encourage over-reaching that could potentially end in disaster, with wild claims and policy misjudgments. At the moment, although our leaders might misstep at some point in this crisis, we are ready to forgive them. 

Also on rt.com ‘No such plan’: Modi govt dismisses report it’s considering extension of coronavirus lockdown beyond April 14

Trump had to step away from his pledge that the US would be back to business by Easter. In the UK, the leadership has fought claims that protective suits and testing kits are in too short supply, while Modi faces the very real practical problem of how to keep a massive population in some sort of isolation.

But then, just in time, Boris went and got Covid-19 himself! The lengths he’ll go to just to show us that we, too, can get through the pandemic unscathed if we just listen to what he tells us to do. Over and over and over again. Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.

See? It works!

If all these heroics seem very much like the Marvel Avengers, and it does, maybe it explains that franchise’s seemingly endless success.

What we also like in our leaders is that human touch. Boris got ill like any other human. Trump continues to tweet how “great” and “beautiful” the US response is and Modi apologised to the people of India for their hardship on his monthly radio address but said there was no other option in beating coronavirus. Whatta guy!

How does all this look in approval ratings? Well, not too shabby, is the answer.

Johnson (72 percent, up from 38 percent last September), Trump (49 percent, up from 35 percent) and Modi (most recently 74 percent) have nothing to worry about on the popularity front.

Meanwhile, in Italy, PM Giuseppe Conte bumps along on just 40 percent, as more Italians die from the pandemic there than anywhere else in the world, and in Spain, second on that grim league table, PM Pedro Sánchez is stuck at just under that figure. 

In France, by comparison, Emmanuel Macron had been struggling to assert his authority over the crisis, but when he got tough and ordered a lockdown, he received a 13 percent bump up to 51 percent in just one month. Stark proof, if it was needed, that tough, decisive action brings its reward to a bold leader.

The ongoing, strong polling figures from the UK, US and India should make any difficult decisions that need to be made down the track just a little bit easier to reach and to sell, whether they concern the pandemic or more pressing domestic economic issues. And that could be very handy indeed.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.