Research conducted by Redfield and Wilton Strategies in Germany suggests that the German Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis in the past month has lived up to (and even exceeded) the high expectations of the German public. Indeed, Germany has recorded relatively low fatality rates compared to Italy or Spain, and its response to the coronavirus crisis has been cited as exemplary. It performed a higher number of tests across the country and provided intensive care beds to its struggling neighbours.
Back in early April, one of our polls found that 63% of German respondents agreed that the German Government’s actions in response to the coronavirus outbreak had been adequate. Six weeks later, on the 23rd of May, 70% of Germans viewed the government’s action on coronavirus as adequate.
The proportion of German respondents who said their government’s actions on coronavirus have fallen short halved from 26% to 14% between early April and mid-May. On the other hand, the proportion who view the Government’s actions as an overreaction doubled from 7% to 14%. Throughout May, it has become increasingly aware that coronavrius has had a relatively limited impact in Germany compared to other countries, ultimately increasing the likelihood of respondents viewing the Government’s handling as adequate—or indeed as an overreaction. Nonetheless, it is important to note that only a small minority (14%) consider the Government’s response an overreaction.
Despite the broad impression that the German Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well, German respondents in mid May were still more concerned about the impact of the pandemic on public health (60%) than on the economy (40%). This response has remained relatively stable compared to early April, when the corresponding proportions were 57% and 43%.
Indeed, despite the broad approval of the Government’s handling of the pandemic, a plurality of the German public believes that the pace at which the government is easing lockdown measures is too fast (42%). In Germany, jurisdiction over lockdown measures lies with individual state governments. This division of legal responsibilities partly explains the discrepancy between respondents largely agreeing that the German Government’s response has been adequate while at the same time considering that lockdown measures are being eased too fast.
In Germany, 83% of respondents think they will feel safe to leave their home in June. By contrast, in a French poll taken at a similar time, 51% of respondents said that they would feel unsafe leaving their home in June. Greater levels of confidence in Germany reflect the country’s relative success in addressing the coronavirus crisis compared to its European neighbours.
Unlike other European leaders, Angela Merkel has seen a slight increase in her approval rating for her handling of the coronavirus crisis. Whereas in April, 68% of respondents approved of her handling of the crisis, this figure rose to 72% approval by mid-May.
By late May, 78% of German respondents consider that the Government has handled the crisis well, a rise of fifteen points since April.
The slight increase in the approval ratings of Merkel and the German Government may be related to public support for the €500bn Covid-19 Recovery Fund jointly proposed by Chancellor Merkel and President Macron on May 18th. Overall, a clear plurality (45%) of Germans believe that the EU (and less affected member states) should have provided more economic support to more affected member states. Only 12% of the German public disagree. A significant minority (36%) of Germans are ambivalent on the level of EU support during the initial stages of the coronavirus crisis. In contrast, an overwhelming majority of Italians (85%) consider that the EU had not offered enough support, demonstrating Italians’ frustration with the level of European solidarity during the pandemic in comparison to Germans.
When asked about Germany’s membership of the EU, our polling in May found that 71% of respondents would vote to remain in a referendum, marking an 8-point increase in favour of EU membership when compared to April. During April, 63% of the German public said they would vote to remain in the EU.
Nevertheless, 40% of respondents felt that the coronavirus pandemic had weakened arguments in favour of the European Union. Among 2017 AfD voters, 63% consider that the virus has weakened arguments for the EU.
Additionally, as the pandemic has led countries to rely on national rather than international structures for support and protection, 60% of respondents stated that the EU did not help Germany during the crisis. In Italy, this figure rose to 83%, raising the prospect that Eurosceptic forces in Italy such as the Lega Nord will be strengthened once the dust has settled on the initial crisis and the focus turns to economic recovery.
Ultimately, while the coronavirus crisis has seen a surge in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity, she now faces a difficult balancing act as she attempts to defend the EU’s new Recovery Fund while placating the more hawkish elements of the German public who are suspicious of using German taxpayer money to support other member states.