The COVID-19 pandemic has placed world leaders under intense scrutiny, perhaps the most intense they will experience in their lifetime. Their constituents, especially, have had a lot to say about their leaders’ performance. Ratings have either soared or taken a nosedive.
Some, like South Korean President Moon Jae-in and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saw a turnaround in their ratings owing to how they handled the pandemic. By containing the outbreak quickly, the South Korean and German heads of state suddenly regained the trust of their citizens.
On the other hand, some leaders have seen a downward spiral in their citizens’ ratings. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for example, saw his ratings reach the 50 percent threshold in the period between March and April. The results of a Manichi poll released late April showed that “Fifty-three percent of respondents in the latest Mainichi Shimbun opinion poll said they did not approve the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s handling of the issues posed by the new coronavirus outbreak, while 39% said they agreed with the measures.”
But what do ratings really mean? Are they an accurate measure of the efficacy of the actions of a nation’s leader?
Ratings and perception
As Twitter user Phillip Lipscy posits:
Japan’s response to COVID-19 has been widely criticized, and Abe’s approval rating has suffered, but the outcome measures in Japan paradoxically look very good.
Yet, in terms of COVID outcomes measures, Japan is doing surprisingly well: actually among the best in the world. This gap between perception and outcome is fascinating.
The key word here is perception.
Ratings are inherently about how someone or something is perceived. This is akin to television shows and movies. They are rated by critics (considered experts in their field) and viewers (who may or may not be experts). The result is often a mixed bag of positive and negatives. If one were to solely base their viewing choices on, say, what Rotten Tomatoes has declared to be a benchmark, one might just be missing out on a movie or TV show they would have really liked. That is not to say that the ratings may not prove to be accurate for one person, but the bottom line is that ratings are objective. They are all about perception, and often, one’s perception is skewed by what their peers think. Call it herd mentality, if you wish.
The Japanese people have spoken. They believe that their Prime Minister and his cabinet have not done well in dealing with the COVID-19 situation. But is this an accurate representation?
To balance the scales, one would have to look at the perception of those who are on the outside (looking in). Arguably, their view is more objective.
As the New York Times stated, in spite of the governments radically different approach to containing the virus – the very approach that the Japanese people have criticized – the Japanese COVID-19 numbers are astonishingly low. Medical experts were predicting the probability of an explosion of infected cases and placing the healthcare system under enormous strain, but they were proven wrong.
It hasn’t happened. Japan — the grayest country in the world and a popular tourist destination with large, crowded cities — has one of the lowest mortality rates from Covid-19 among major nations. The medical system has not been overwhelmed. And the government never forced businesses to close, although many chose to.
One also has to consider that Japan was exposed to the virus earlier than its first-world counterparts. The docking of cruise ship Diamond Princess put the country in a position where they had to deal with the coronavirus without a playbook to follow. They had to create their own manual, and by the time information about how other countries were dealing with the virus came out, the Japanese people were already deep in the throes of a lockdown – albeit a soft one.
At this point, citizens were already getting tired of the situation, making it easier to vent their frustration and direct it towards the government.
The power of the media cannot be ignored, and when it comes to ratings, it carries a lot of weight. One could say that the media is the major influence on how people think. In Japan, the media bias has massively contributed to the negative perception of the public.
Twitter user Hideki Kakeya, Dr.Eng. shares some insight on this:
Actually, the low approval rating is due to the media bias in Japan. They are all left-leaning and criticize everything Abe does, including right decisions like closing school early or taking advice from world leading medical experts. Japan has no media like FOX to balance it.
Numbers don’t lie
As of June 10, Japan has a total of 17,210 confirmed cases, 15,213 of which have recovered, and 916 deaths. This amounts to a 5 percent death rate and 88 percent recovery rate. The spread of infection has slowed down, allowing the government to slow re-open its economy, opening up the way to the “new lifestyle”. Apart from New Zealand, which has declared itself to be “virus-free”, no other country can boast of such impressive results.
At the end of the day, one only has to look at the results in order to realize that no matter what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ratings are, he was able to do the job.