n a new report ‘Political Trust and the COVID-19 Crisis: Pushing Populism to the Backburner”, researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Canberra and Oxford find that perceptions of the threat posed by the coronavirus and performance of political leaders tend to correspond to how the crisis has unfolded in each country.
The ESRC-funded TrustGov project and Museum of Australian Democracy teamed up to conduct online national surveys, fielded by pollsters Ipsos MORI in May and June 2020, in Australia, Italy, the UK and the USA.
The surveys reveal that the public’s assessment of the level of threat posed by the coronavirus and trust in government and political leaders tends to correspond to the actual experiences of citizens in the four countries.
- Citizens’ perception of the threat of the virus to themselves personally is highest in the UK (the country where the rate of deaths per capita is highest); while concerns about the economic threat are somewhat greater in the UK and Italy (countries subject to tighter containment measures than others) when compared to the US and Australia.
- Concern about national threat posed by the virus is highest in the UK (reflecting the magnitude of the outbreak to date). Two-thirds of Britons consider the virus a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ threat compared to 6 in 10 in the U.S. and Italy and just 1 in 3 in Australia.
- According to the research, citizens tend to look more positively on those politicians who are perceived to listen to extra governmental views in organising their response to the pandemic.
- Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is well ahead in terms of being viewed as competent in his handling of the outbreak, followed by Giuseppe Conte, then Boris Johnson, and then, Donald Trump.
The process of judging the competence of political elites in the context of COVID-19 is more than a crude judgment about threat and outcomes. It reflects how the leader is perceived to have managed the process and their relationships with other stakeholders and interests.