- approval ratings for leaders go up
- if leaders survive, it makes them look "superhuman"
- doesn't change govt policy on the coronavirus
In Brazil, the picture is slightly different. Catching COVID-19 didn’t seem to shift Bolsonaro’s governance tactics—it turbocharged them. While infected, Bolsonaro boasted of taking the drug hydroxychloroquine, the unproven medication also touted by Trump. “I’m doing much better than I was,” Bolsonaro said in a video posted to social media in July, as he took a dose of hydroxychloroquine and washed it down with water. “It’s working.” He has encouraged Brazilians to flout local state lockdown rules, and told reporters in September: “No one can force anyone to get a vaccine.”
His brush with the disease may even have brought political benefits, analysts said. “His quick recovery strengthens the claim that the pandemic is actually not that bad,” Oliver Steunkel of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) in São Paulo told the Financial Times in September. “And secondly, I think it also creates an image, or strengthens an image, of Bolsonaro as a superhuman messiah.”
...Johnson’s severe case of the virus appeared to prompt a wave of sympathy from the British public. His personal approval ratings skyrocketed from 44% in mid-March to 66% on April 13, immediately after he exited the ICU. But Johnson’s spike in approval coincided with the U.K.’s national lockdown, which enjoyed broad public support in the spring. Johnson’s approval ratings sank to 35% in late September amid accusations his government has mishandled the pandemic. (In the U.S., the pandemic has killed more than 207,000 Americans, but Trump approval ratings are slightly higher than they were before the first wave hit—about 43%.)
“When Boris Johnson succumbed to COVID-19, he and his Conservative government were, in common with many other leaders and administrations around the world, already benefiting from a rally-round-the-flag boost in popular support,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, in an email to TIME. “The fact that the prime minister had himself contracted the disease may have resulted in a wave of human sympathy for him and helped ensure that the public, if it wasn’t already, would henceforth take coronavirus very seriously indeed, all of which helped reinforce public health messaging. But, contrary to popular belief, it didn’t actually have much of an impact on his ratings or those of the government more generally—and any slight boost it may have occasioned—pretty soon dissipated as it became clearer and clearer that mistakes in the handling of the pandemic meant that the U.K.’s death rate was far higher than that of many comparable countries in Europe.” (More than 42,000 people have died in Britain, making it the worst-hit country in Europe.)
Bolsonaro’s approval ratings also rose a month after he contracted the virus, though this coincided with a push by his government to provide $47 billion of emergency aid money to vulnerable parts of society. Support for the Brazilian President hovered around 33% between April and June, according to Datafolha polling, but rose to 37% in August.