In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Germany was applauded by many for its response to the crisis, particularly due to its significantly lower fatality rate when compared to other European countries like Italy, Spain, France, and the UK. However, as a brutal second wave—and now an equally severe third wave—hit the central European country, Germany has struggled to suppress the coronavirus, prompting some to comment ‘Germany is no longer a role model’ in its pandemic response.
At Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we polled Germans in both May 2020 and May 2021 on how they think Germany’s handling of the crisis compares to other countries. Our research finds that, although a majority of Germans think their own Government has not handled the coronavirus crisis well, a plurality of respondents still believe France (38%), Spain (39%), Italy (40%), and the United States (40%) have handled the crisis worse than Germany. Indeed, our recent polling in France found much of the French public agrees that Germany has handled the crisis better than France.
That being said, the proportion of respondents who believe these countries have handled the crisis worse than Germany has decreased substantially since May 2020—from 49% for France (now 38%), 62% for Spain (now 39%), 63% for Italy (now 40%), and 73% for the United States (now 40%). The share of Germans who think the United States has handled the crisis worse than Germany has decreased a significant 33 points since last May, which is likely attributable to the US’ more advanced vaccination programme.
A plurality of Germans continue to think neighbouring Austria (39%) and the Netherlands (32%) have handled the coronavirus crisis about the same as Germany, though a considerable 30% believe the Netherlands has handled the crisis worse, up from 19% in May 2020.
With respect to Greece’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Germans are divided on whether Greece has handled the crisis about the same (29%) or worse (27%) than Germany. The result was similarly divided in May 2020, though the proportion who believe Greece has handled the crisis better than Germany has since increased from 13% to 21%.
In our May 2020 poll, the only of the thirteen countries which a plurality of Germans said had handled the crisis better than Germany was South Korea, at 33%. This figure has seen a slight increase in our latest poll, with 36% saying South Korea has handled the coronavirus crisis better than Germany. A considerable 28%, however, say they don’t know how the countries compare.
South Korea is no longer the only country to have a plurality of Germans saying their handling of the crisis was superior to Germany’s: a plurality now say that Australia (42%) and New Zealand (47%) have handled the crisis better—rather than about the same—as Germany, reflecting the Oceanic countries’ relative success in containing the virus. As with South Korea, approximately a quarter say they don’t know how Australia (24%) and New Zealand (26%) handled the crisis when compared to Germany.
Further, whereas a plurality in May 2020 believed China (47%) and Sweden (40%) had handled the crisis worse than Germany, the plurality position in our May 2021 poll is that China (38%) and Sweden (31%) have handled the crisis better than Germany. A considerable proportion nevertheless continue to think China (24%) and Sweden (29%) have, in fact, handled the crisis worse relative to Germany.
Lastly, our recent poll finds 34% of Germans believe the UK has handled the coronavirus crisis better than Germany—compared to the 64% who thought the UK had handled the crisis worse in May 2020. While a substantial 31% still find the UK’s handling of the crisis to have been worse than Germany’s, this figure has decreased 33 points since last year. As with the United States, these results demonstrate the impact that the UK’s successful vaccination rollout has had on perceptions of the nation’s overall handling of the crisis.
German respondents’ views on how these thirteen countries have handled the coronavirus crisis relative to their own country have seen substantial changes in the past year, with a plurality now believing South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sweden, and the UK have handled the pandemic better than Germany. A plurality still believe that Italy, France, Spain, and the United States have handled the crisis worse than Germany, while many perceive Austria, the Netherlands, and Greece’s responses to have been about the same as Germany’s.