The appeal for order that is typical of crisis situations is further amplified by hyperbolized waves of panic in traditional and social media. Watching neighbors, not all of whom are willing to comply with strict quarantine rules, just adds fuel to the fire. Eighty-seven percent of Brits believe their fellow citizens are not serious enough about the pandemic, while 60 percent of them have at some point violated lockdown rules.
Illusions of mass consciousness are breaking down against harsh reality, and the way out is seen in unambiguous management decisions in the spirit of conservatism. More than ever, the idea is gaining traction that the government’s task is not to instruct and educate, to determine the correct areas of activity or explain the true meaning of happiness, but simply to manage and establish uniform rules and procedures. The government's duty is to cool the hotheads and extinguish the fire of dangerous desires.
The effect of rallying around incumbent leaders can be seen particularly clearly. Even the groups that are critical of the authorities put their political grievances and opposition views aside in the face of a common threat. Patriotism and a sense of unity with the nation come to the fore. According to the Gallup Institute, the rise in Donald Trump's approval ratings in recent weeks has been largely achieved through the changing opinions of the Democrats and independent voters. Compared with the early March polls, the approval ratings of the US president among the Democrats has grown 6 percentage points from 7 percent to 13 percent. The increase is even more pronounced among independent voters growing from 35 percent to 43 percent.
Amid this challenging epidemiological situation and quarantine, support for national leaders in Europe is also on the rise. In the UK, Boris Johnson achieved his highest approval ratings in March during his tenure as British prime minister, primarily due to the improved opinions of the Conservative Party’s opponents. The approval of the prime minister’s activities among Labor party supporters went from 11 percent to 24 percent, and among the party of Liberal Democrats supporters from 18 percent to 38 percent.
Similar dynamics can be seen in France, where the approval ratings of President Emmanuel Macron jumped by 13 percentage points to 51 percent. Moreover, the largest increase - 20 percent – was noted among the Socialist Party base.
The Italian government, led by Giuseppe Conte, also received a record-high support rating of 71 percent in March.
It is too early to speculate on whether these ratings will remain unchanged once the pandemic is gone. Much will depend on retrospective evaluations of the effectiveness of the decisions that were made and the ability of the leaders themselves to hold onto the points gained during the crisis. However, empirical experience makes it possible to argue that the effect of cohesion may have a long-term positive effect on the perception of incumbent authorities. Thus, following the 9/11 attack, George W. Bush’s approval ratings reached an all-time high of 90 percent and, despite the expected drop, remained high until late 2003.
It can be assumed that political leaders who have conservative political values and patriotism on their agenda will find themselves in the most secure position. The case of Donald Trump, who used many conservative theses in his rhetoric right from the outset, is quite telling. We can look back at some of the telltale language from his inaugural speech, like “the right of all nations to put their own interests first; when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice; we will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything.”
Amid the growing rejection of socialist ideas
in the United States, this creates additional benefits for the incumbent president.
In Europe, the right-wing conservative parties and the Euro-skeptics will play this card. Look at the dynamics of recent support for these political forces in Italy which is designed to introduce a situation that is favorable for them, and which they will certainly take advantage of. The other day, League leader Matteo Salvini was warming up his support base calling the European Union a "nest of snakes and jackals" and urging everyone to consider leaving the EU "without a word of gratitude" after the victory over the coronavirus
The mobilization of patriotism and the effects of cohesion imply the temptation of populism. Moreover, this temptation is not so much for the voters as it is for the political establishment, who are inclined to label their opponents with this word with its negative connotations. However, attempts to blame populism
, this time, for the growing demand for order, stability and the protection of national interests and tough decisions might be fatal. The Western political elite, which customarily rely on ideology-driven simplistic terms in the spirit of dichotomies such as populism/democracy or democracy/authoritarianism risk cutting themselves off from a variety of possible solutions. A recent article in The New Yorker, on ideological constructs overshadowing situation analysis and conclusions from other people's experience, is a case in point.
In this context, the search for new and effective solutions could lead the elites, too, to reconsider politics from a conservative standpoint.
Indeed, as noted by Oakeshott, government initiatives should be based on established practice rather than religious or philosophical precepts, and they should be guided by the need to establish peace and order, rather than the quest for truth and perfection.