Politics Are Healing: Approving the Successful and Disapproving the Failed

In an ideal political landscape, politicians represent and serve the public. So, when they fail their mission of providing welfare and peace, the public is supposed to vote them out. This statement assumes the individuals are rational, they are aware of their own benefits, and they act according to their benefits. Until 2020, I can say with confidence, in most countries, the public was not fully politically aware and the political charisma was an influence on their voting decision. In the last couple of years, we watched right-winged, “alpha”, conservative, and “charismatic” men becoming the most powerful leaders of the world around the same time. Telling the masses what they want to hear might got them the powerful chairs they are sitting on, but this year, their political abilities and the actual motivations have been revealed during the pandemic. Even the people who are not aware of who is the president became more cautious about politics, of course, because every day was a political challenge of survival for all. Without exception, every country leader in the world has struggled (some are still struggling) with COVID over the past 7 months. Some became more successful than others, some of them received backlash from the public directed to their wrong moves.


First, I would like to start by explaining the concept of approval/disapproval. In order to calculate a politician’s likeability, multiple research companies conduct a survey on different samples of people and the mean of the means inside the samples is the closest we can attain to the actual approval rate from the public. Second, approval/disapproval does not solely determine the chance of that politician getting re-elected, they help us estimate the received success of that politician by the public. Lastly, I would like to examine one past and two upcoming elections of this year to determine if there is a pattern between the success of the politician’s COVID response, their approval rates, and their chance of re-election.


There is an upcoming election in New Zealand on September 19, 2020. Ruling Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern had a huge success in controlling the spread of COVID and minimizing the deaths caused by it. Total cases are 1560 and the deaths are only 22 by the end of July. Fortunately, her success was rewarded and her approval rate went up by 14 points to 56.5 percent in the first poll since the pandemic started.(1) The minimum damage country got from COVID provided the country to be COVID-free since the beginning of June.(2) There is no way to predict the future and know whether she is going to be re-elected or not, but still, we can say her successful response to the crisis-at-hand was well-received by the public and hopefully will be awarded by re-election in September.


We have two unsuccessful responders to the pandemic, first one is President of Poland Andrzej Duda. The scheduled general election of Poland was on May 10, 2020, but the opposition wanted to postpone it due to the pandemic. After the postponing, the largest opposition party change their candidate to Rafal Trzaskowski and caused a change in the expected results of the election. Not only President Duda’s COVID response was insufficient, but some other country-wide political unraveling also caused his approval rates to fall from 58% in April to 42% on June 12. Against all the objections from opposition due to the continuing high-risk of the COVID and the limited time the new candidate got to propaganda, the senate rescheduled the election on June 28, and possible second round on July 12. They could not risk the approval rates decreasing to a dangerous level for President Duda and result in losing the election, so they risked the public’s safety and hold the election which resulted in President Duda to win in the second round by 51%.(3) In this case, increasing political disapproval did not cost re-election to President Duda. However, we can definitely say his unsuccessful response to the pandemic affected his approval rates.


The second unsuccessful leader on responding to the pandemic is President of the USA Donald Trump, the upcoming presidential election of USA is on November 3, 2020. His approval rates fluctuate around 43%(lowest) and 49%(highest) from the start of the March to end of the May. We observe a sharp decrease from 49% to 38% on his approval rates at the first polls after the George Floyd murder and the police brutality protests started. His aggressive response to ongoing protests cost him a 9% increase of disapproval continued until the end of June.(4) There are 3 months left of his first term of presidency and his every political move is as important as one another. President Trump’s plan to open schools this fall has not reflected on the polls yet, the future may hold very different outcomes than we can predict of the upcoming presidential election in the US. In this case, we cannot say his insufficient response to COVID (which failed to flatten the curve nation-wide) cost him any points of approval yet. However, I must share this point, his supportive audience (who are mostly mask-refusers) do not care about the pandemic, so his policies on the matter may not cost him any approval points in the future either.


In conclusion, we cannot say responding successfully to the pandemic guarantees re-election. However, political awareness and responsiveness of the public have become more sensitive to the political acts during the pandemic. Both cases of disapproval increase included another political aspect, but this does not make the failed responses’ affect zero on the polls. People being more cautious about politics is always a good thing, but that should not take a pandemic to make people interested in what is going on in society.

by Hülya AFAT

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