Brazil and Poland are highly polarized both politically and socially. Political polarization data are missing for the United States but it is assuredly high, suggesting it would resemble Brazil and Poland. Yet UK, Russia, and France are not terribly polarized on either score. Since our six cases greatly differ in their degree of societal and political polarization, they are unlikely culprits for the pattern of unimpressive personal COVID rallies we observe.
We can also rule out populist rhetoric as the driving force. Macron’s personal COVID rally was also weak at best even though his La République En Marche! scores significantly lower than any of the other leaders’ parties. Andrzej Duda has been politically independent since 2015, but his erstwhile Law and Justice (PiS) party, with whom he governs, outscores all parties under analysis for populist rhetoric. Bolsonaro’s personalist party ranks second, followed by Trump’s Republican Party and Johnson’s Conservatives. Mishustin, a technocrat, is not a member of Putin’s United Russia--a party whose strongly populist rhetoric is roughly on par with Johnson’s Conservatives.
These six cases also vary qualitatively in terms of regime type and constitutional structure. The UK is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. Brazil and the USA combine presidentialism and federalism. Russia is nominally a federalism but largely functions in a unitary manner and is firmly authoritarian; Poland is unitary and centralized; France is a unitary and decentralized state. Russia, Poland, and France feature dual-executive or semi-presidential systems. Within this form of government, Mishustin is an appointed head of government and Duda and Macron are directly elected heads of state.
Given the great cross-case variation in these potential explanatory factors, meager personal COVID rallies may well be expected in most circumstances. Thus we can conclude with some confidence that the public is unlikely to rally behind leaders who contract COVID-19. If they do, the rally is likely to be small and short-lived. Johnson’s relatively strong personal rally could be explained by many factors, including the fact that it occurred early in the pandemic. Rarely should we expect public support to fall when a leader becomes infected. Only Poland displayed this pattern and we lack the proper controls to understand whether this was due to Duda contracting the coronavirus or to broader health outcomes. While we await more evidence to bolster our conclusions, leaders who contract COVID do not appear to witness a meaningful change in how citizens evaluate them.