The coronavirus pandemic has tested all domestic and international leaders and brought to light many of their strengths and weaknesses. We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll in July in France, Germany and Spain to compare the popularity of Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Pedro Sanchez.
A significant proportion of the German public believe that Merkel exhibits the personal qualities of telling the truth (47%), caring about people like them (41%), and being willing to work opposition (61%). In contrast, a majority of French (62%) and Spanish respondents (56%) say Macron and Sanchez do not tell the truth. Similarly, 67% of French and 55% of Spanish respondents consider that their country’s leader does not care about people like them.
The French and Spanish public are more split on whether their leaders are willing to work with the opposition where possible; a narrow plurality in France (39% to 37%) believe Macron is not willing, while a similarly narrow plurality in Spain (46% to 43%) believe Sanchez is willing. However, Merkel still outperforms Macron and Sanchez on this question, with 61% of German respondents saying she is someone who is willing to work with the opposition.
A majority of Germans view Merkel as a strong leader (58%) and as someone who knows how to get things done (61%), while almost half (48%) say she can bring German people together. In contrast, a majority of French (53%, 53%, and 58%) and Spanish people (54%, 53%, and 55%) believe their leaders are not strong, are unable to get things done, and cannot bring people together.
The leaders’ physical and mental health is the only question in the whole poll in which public confidence is higher in the 42-year-old Macron (63%) and the 48-year-old Sanchez (60%) than in the 66-year-old Merkel, who is still considered healthy by a strong plurality of 49%. Although she has repeatedly ruled out running for a fifth term as Chancellor, the issue continues to be discussed in German politics, and Merkel herself said that her pledge to serve out the rest of her term was “health-permitting”.
In Great Britain and the United States, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has underlined widespread pessimism about the prospects of a successful or swift economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis. Respondents in mainland Europe also have limited faith in the ability of their leaders to get the economy going again. Half of respondents in France and Spain do not trust their leaders on the economy, and whilst Merkel still receives a plurality (46%) of support, the margin of support for her is notably lower than in other aspects in her leadership. Approval for governments across Europe will be closely linked to the extent of the economic recovery – the public has indicated in previous polls that supporting the overall economy is the most important issue for Europe in the next 18 months, while Germans are particularly worried about the high possibility of a recession.
European respondents are more likely to consider that their leaders can ably represent their country’s interests on the international sphere. A majority of respondents in all three countries (79% in Germany, 60% in France, and 51% in Spain) believe their leader can work with foreign leaders.
Similarly, a majority in Germany (61%) say Merkel stands up for the nation’s interests, while pluralities in France (44%) and Spain (47%) hold the same view of Macron and Sanchez.
Merkel has no doubt benefited from her relatively successful handling of the coronavirus crisis, and stands on much firmer footing than Sanchez and Macron. The latter, faring the worst of the three, should be particularly concerned, given that his approval ratings are lower than those of former Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe. Although Sanchez is narrowly more popular than Macron, his Government’s dependence upon fragmented alliances also places him in a precarious position. Having secured significant financial support from the European Union for the reconstruction of the Spanish economy, it remains to be seen whether Sanchez will be able to improve the public’s view of his character and competence.