President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis has upended the presidential race in an unprecedented way. That much is a given.
However, what’s surprising is the fact that — given the short history of world leaders being diagnosed with the virus — it could end up giving him a major boost in the polls.
In the only two cases where conservative world leaders were diagnosed with the coronavirus, both ended up in much better standing with their population, judging by opinion surveys.
Trump announced his diagnosis early Friday. Since then, he appeared on his Twitter account — wearing his traditional suit, but sans the customary tie — to reassure the American people he was in good shape.
“I came here, wasn’t feeling so well, I feel much better now, we are working hard to get me all the way back,” Trump said in the video from Walter Reed National Medical Center.
“I’ll be back soon and I look forward to finishing up the campaign,” he said in the video. “We are going to beat this coronavirus or whatever you’re gonna call it and we’re gonna beat it soundly.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 3, 2020
“Over the next period of a few days I guess that’s the real test, so we’ll see what happens over that next couple of days,” Trump said.
A positive COVID-19 test is one thing, but what the test means for his campaign is quite another. If history is any indication, however, it might actually work out for him.
Only two major elected world leaders have tested positive for COVID-19: United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Both saw major bumps in their popularity after their diagnoses.
Johnson is probably the closest analog to Trump, both considering their political positions and the similarities between the political climates in the United Kingdom and the United States.
With 32 days to go until election day in the United States, it’s worth remembering what contracting the coronavirus did to Boris Johnson’s approval numbers. pic.twitter.com/LKrmiSg9OJ
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) October 2, 2020
When Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 at the end of March, his government’s approval ratings were in the high 40s, but shot up.
According to YouGov’s poll tracker, Johnson’s Tory government peaked at 68 percent approval rating on the 13th of April, with 26 percent disapproval.
That bump would eventually fade and by the 8th of June, Johnson was at 50 percent disapproval to 43 percent approval. However, that was a two-month period. Trump has 32 days until the election — which means, if there is a bump, it could carry through Election Day.
Meanwhile, the controversial Bolsonaro was diagnosed on July 7 and soon saw a bump in polls.
Very few world leaders have tested positive for coronavirus, but the ones who have – Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro and British PM Boris Johnson, both right-wing populists like Trump – saw their approval ratings rise dramatically after testing positive: pic.twitter.com/wEuwj6pRn6
— Andrew Solender (@AndrewSolender) October 2, 2020
“The approval rating of Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, is at its highest since he took office last year despite the country’s 105,000 deaths from the world’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak,” Reuters reported Aug. 14.
“The Datafolha poll found that 37% of those surveyed viewed his government as great or good, compared with 32% in June, while his rejection rate has dropped 10 points to 34% who see his government as bad or terrible.”
“Truth, half truth or fake News? Good morning, all,” Bolsonaro — who was against lockdown or social distancing measures — tweeted in the wake of the poll.
Other world leaders have tested positive for COVID-19, although they’ve either been more been less prominent in stature and/or had more dubious claims to popular election.
The dubiously elected Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko said he contracted the virus but suffered no symptoms, according to Euronews. However, that claim was never substantiated and Lukashenko is currently the subject of massive protests. Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei have also contracted the virus.
Among the elected leaders of major democracies, however, Johnson and Bolsonaro are unique — both given the size and power of the countries they lead and the quality of the polling in those nations.
If we’re to go by their examples, Donald Trump could be in very good shape. The question remains, however. whether precedent holds.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.