Caitlin Micallef from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Simon Müller from Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt Germany talked to experts about the different ways political leaders have responded to the coronavirus.
Australia and Germany are among the few coronavirus “success stories” but despite comparatively low infection rates, the global health pandemic has tested the mettle of political leaders in both countries.
According to Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Sydney Rodney Tiffen, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chancellor Angela Merkel have exercised different leadership styles in their handling of the health crisis.
“Merkel was a scientist and Morrison was in marketing,” he said.
“He (Morrison) has a tendency to be always optimistic and avoiding any acknowledgement of hard choices. Merkel always seems across the detail, and not a salesman for false optimism.
“[Other than] at the height of the crisis, [Morrison] does not seem to be across the detail.”
Though political pundits predicted Morrison’s mishandling of the bushfire crisis would leave him “irretrievably damaged”, his popularity has surged. After trailing Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese as preferred PM, his net approval rating rose to be the highest since Kevin Rudd’s in 2009.
While Emeritus Professor Tiffen has criticised Morrison’s marketing style and acumen, he attributes the surge in approval ratings to the PM’s decisiveness at a critical juncture in the nation’s response to the coronavirus.
“In all his career before the pandemic I thought he was focused on politicking rather than government,” he said.
“After a few initial missteps I think he got the big calls right – convening a national cabinet, endorsing a strong lockdown response, and making policy related moves on the necessary scale.”
We also discussed the hits to our economies and the need to push a trade-led recovery of the world economy, including working through the G20. We're all committed to working together to fight this virus and on the recovery on the other side.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) April 22, 2020
Germany’s ruling party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has also gained in popularity during the pandemic.
Before COVID-19, the CDU’s party popularity stood at 26%, but increased to 38% in May.
Expert in political communication at the University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Germany, Sebastian Rajca, said Chancellor Merkel is seizing a plum political opportunity.
“A crisis is always the hour of the government. This is the moment when the government is in the front line… they are capable of acting and taking action. This leads to a higher media presence of the decision makers.”
With the popularity of Bavarian leader Markus Söder also on the rise, Mr Rajca believes strong collaborative leadership presents an opportunity in the present political climate.
“Federalism need not be a disadvantage in the fight against this pandemic. There are regional differences in the extent of the virus [and these] differences should also be taken into account in the fight against coronavirus.”
— Caitlin Micallef and Simon Müller