In times of great need, citizens tend to rally behind their governments. This happens in democracies, as well as in autocratic regimes. As such it's hardly surprising that the government's approval ratings are up, according to the latest ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll. But the extent of the surge is nevertheless impressive.
A couple of weeks ago, hardly anyone in Germany knew what the novel coronavirus was. The country's coalition government had seemingly run out of steam, and disaffection among Germans had become palpable. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives did poorly in the Hamburg local elections, centrist Germans were warming to the Greens and right-wingers were enthralled by the populist AfD.
But now, only a few weeks later, Germans are suddenly overwhelmingly in support of their government again.
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Germany is weathering the crisis
Its approval ratings are the highest of any governing coalition in 23 years. Merkel, who had largely avoided public appearances since the beginning of the year, enjoys the highest ratings ever of this legislative period.
Citizens clearly tend to place trust in the political leadership they know during times of crisis. Two further factors, however, also help account for this approval rating boost. One is that the government has appeared level-headed in its actions. The other is that Germany, the country where many had grown exasperated over leaders' inability to complete the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, or properly maintain schools and roads, has so far weathered the coronavirus crisis considerably well — especially by international comparison.
Merkel is heeding advice provided by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's public health agency. Not only that. Merkel, who many had believed lacked talent in holding public speeches, recently made a emphatic television address, in which she shared important facts. Granted, there might be the occasional disagreement with state premiers. But Germany's federal system, which is often severely criticized, has proved particularly apt at responding to different stages of coronavirus infections across the country. Germans far and wide have come to realize what a good job the country's countless district administrators, public health workers and mayors are doing. Hopefully, Germans will now be embarrassed just how much abuse, at times physical, these decisionmakers have endured by radicals and crazies.
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And, above all, Germans are having their nerves calmed by RKI experts and others, who are happy to admit they're not all-knowing when it comes to the novel coronavirus. These experts have been doing their utmost to keep calm, keep abreast of developments and communicate clearly.
The governing coalition has been listening to their expertise, and acting upon it.
While this may appear an obvious thing for any government to do, the examples of Britain and the US indicate it isn't necessarily so. Moreover, it is telling that many fear for the country's economy as a whole, yet are not too worried about their own personal circumstances. If people are still this calm after two weeks of lockdown, things really cannot be that bad in Germany.
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This is only the beginning
Nothing is perfect, of course. Germany's health care system, for instance, needs improving. That hospitals were transformed into autonomous businesses is regrettable and detrimental to the situation. Besides, this is only the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. But there's a realistic chance Germany's leaders and citizens will manage a dramatic rise in infections. At this stage, of course, nobody will know what Germany will look like after this nightmare is over. But for now, Germans are complying with the manifold restrictions on everyday life because they recognize their necessity.
Germans have been taking to their balconies to applaud doctors, nurses, police officers and supermarket cashiers for their hard and essential work in these times. Let's hope we will develop a greater appreciation of these professions going forward, and ensure they will be better paid.