It is difficult to predict what long-term impact the coronavirus will have on global politics, but it is unlikely that this pandemic is going to stem the rise of populism. Ivan Krastev of the New Statesman wrote that it would be ironic if US President Donald Trump was defeated in this year’s presidential election because of a radical backlash against globalization of the kind that he espoused, whilst being defeated by a virus named after a Mexican beer that originated in China.
Populism Has Surged in France
Krastev’s words aside, however, it is looking unlikely that Covid-19 is going to stem Trump’s popularity. A Monmouth University poll found that the President’s approval rating was as high as 46 percent. This is particularly impressive considering he has been lambasted by numerous media outlets for failing to take the pandemic seriously. There is clearly still a strong appetite for Trump’s rhetoric in the US and this bodes well for him in November.
Populism has also surged in France, but in a different way. Activists from both sides of the political spectrum have resorted to spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media. According to Politico, they have accused the political class of abandoning “ordinary” people to face the epidemic by themselves. Left and right populists have also said that Covid-19 was invented in a French laboratory (even though it is clear the virus originated from a wet market in Wuhan) and that the “Big Pharma” industry has allowed this disease to spread so that pharmaceutical companies can make more money.
Influential Conspiracy Theories are Spreading
There are also conspiracy theories being spread on the internet that the EU is to blame for the spread of the coronavirus in France.
“Ils Savaient” (‘They Knew’) is an anti-establishment website that is linked to the Yellow Vest movement and their information has been used by the leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, who is hoping to capitalize on the French Government’s failure to respond to the coronavirus sooner.
Although 70 percent of people have a negative view of her in the opinion polls — with a French presidential election two years away — current leader Emmanuel Macron is anxious to ensure that he can lead France back to prosperity once this is over, because if the French economy suffers as a result of his government’s lockdown, that will only lead more French voters into the arms of populist parties and misinformation sites.
Other leaders have responded to Covid-19 with their own conspiracy theories, like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Both leaders have offered half-hearted policies to stem the epidemic’s outbreak.
Elsewhere in Europe, the popular radical right Forum for Democracy (FvD) and Party for Freedom (PVV) have criticized the Dutch government’s handling of Covid-19. They have been urging Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to close Holland’s borders.
Could Salvini Return to Power in Italy?
In Italy, many citizens are feeling increasingly left behind by the EU’s response to the coronavirus, rather like they did after the 2008 financial crisis. Given that elections are a regular occurrence in this country, there is a strong possibility that Matteo Salvini’s League Party could easily win power as they could form a coalition with Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party. Both parties command 42 percent of the vote together.
If the EU continues to mishandle its approach to Covid-19, their popularity is only likely to skyrocket.
Salvini has also warned that Italy could leave the EU altogether if the organization does not change, suggesting that the bloc may have no reason to exist at all soon.
Establishment parties across the world have been especially vulnerable to populism since the 2008 recession, but the coronavirus has made this problem even worse for them. If the economic fallout from this pandemic continues, then there will be surging support for populist politicians. This is just the beginning.