Jacinda Ardern soars to top of coronavirus popularity chart as Donald Trump flounders

Leaders who imposed fast and strict lockdown measures have seen their polls take off, while those who dithered watch theirs plummet

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 24: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern poses for photos after officially opening the Fisher and Paykel Healthcare's Daniell Building on July 24, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. Fisher and Paykel Healthcare's Daniell Building is the fourth research and development and manufacturing facility in New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Covid-19 crisis has rewarded decisive leaders with strong support in opinion polls and punished those deemed to be weak and ineffectual, research by The National  has shown.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has achieved record opinion polls on Monday for her handling of the crisis, while US President Donald Trump is on the verge of losing office.

Leaders who acted quickly to impose tough restrictions on movement and stop the virus spreading have had their leadership ratings soar, while the popularity of those who were indecisive has plummeted.

The table of global infections suggests a correlation between late and weak lockdowns and high death rates, with the US, UK and Brazil all near the top.


How to handle Covid

New Zealand is considered to be one of the best examples of how to tackle the virus after Ms Ardern launched an aggressive response.

As with the UAE but unlike many other countries, restrictions were implemented before New Zealand experienced its first death.

Ms Ardern announced bold and sweeping emergency measures that included banning meetings with friends and all car travel except for essentials.

“We only have 102 cases," she said on March 22. "But so did Italy, once.”

Ms Ardern warned of the possibility of tens of thousands of deaths, and New Zealanders fell into line except for a health minister, who was demoted after taking his family to the beach.

“I expect better and so does New Zealand,” Ms Ardern said in response.

Her leadership is reflected in the latest poll that puts support for her Labour Party at 61 per cent, the highest recorded in the country's polling history.

New Zealand has become the first major country to become almost Covid-free and has relaxed restrictions to the point that people are allowed to hug each other.

Only 22 have died in a population of five million. Twenty-one people are infected with only three cases in the past week.

Ms Ardern, who turned 40 this week, also demonstrated strong leadership during the Christchurch mosque massacre last year.

Others praised for pandemic leadership

Another woman leader praised for clear decision-making is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Of all the major European countries, Germany weathered the pandemic best with an early lockdown and effective contact tracing.

The latest German polls show that 71 per cent are satisfied or very satisfied with Mrs Merkel's prowess.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov gestures next to Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 17, 2020. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has also experienced a surge in popularity, despite his country initially being the worst-hit because of its strong air links to China.

Mr Conte oversaw one of the strictest lockdowns, which helped reduce the spread of infection.

He was rewarded with an endorsement rating that went from 50 per cent in March to 61 per cent in June.

Trump and Johnson damned by delaying

In contrast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dithered over lockdown measures, introducing them only after almost 400 people had died.

Mr Johnson’s net favourability rating has plummeted to minus 12 per cent down from minus 7 per cent last month.

The latest poll today also reveals that nearly two thirds of the UK public agreed \that the government “seems to be making up its coronavirus policy as it goes along”.

But perhaps Mr Trump has been worst hit.

At the start of the year, polls predicted that he had a good chance of re-election in November’s presidential race.

But his bungled handling of the crisis has given his Democratic rival Joe Biden a strong, eight-point lead.

Mr Trump had originally suggested that Covid-19 was not a serious problem, but the US has suffered almost 4.4 million infections and 150,000 deaths.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 13, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a  "Build Back Better" Clean Energy event at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware.  Donald Trump has 100 days from Sunday to save his presidency as America tries to avoid a collective nervous breakdown ahead of one of the most divisive, tension-filled elections in US history. / AFP / Olivier DOULIERY

The leader of Brazil, the country with the second highest number of infections at 2.5 million, has also had a sharp fall in popularity.

Jair Bolsonaro, who sacked two health ministers, has belittled the virulence of the coronavirus, calling it a “little flu” and answering “So what?” when asked about his response to nearly 500 deaths in a day.

At one point, Mr Bolsonaro's net poll rating was minus 25 per cent, but that lifted slightly to minus 12 per cent after he contracted Covid-19.