“The whole nationalist populist surge was connected to an historical moment where you could afford to play with fire,” she noted. ‘‘But now the situation is really bad, so much more dangerous, and people don’t want the easy nonsense from media-savvy populists.”
She cited polls showing that Matteo Salvini, the noisy Italian populist, has been losing support on the right, while another far-right opposition politician, Giorgia Meloni, “on the rational, coolheaded, nonpopulist right,” has done better.
Much of the public reaction may ultimately depend on how long the sense of crisis lasts, the onslaught of the virus being uncertain and open-ended. The unlocking of the lockdown will itself be fraught with political danger.
“Though we see these leaders making decisions, they’re not making them from a position of strength, but from uncertainty and weakness,” said Nicholas Dungan, a Paris-based senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“They’re not leading so much as administering,” he said. “And once people are out and about, and not confined anymore doing their duty, people are going to be quite angry, and this will lead to greater instability.”
Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, noted that Winston Churchill was revered for having presided over the victory over Hitler, but was summarily tossed out of office in 1945.
“Winning a war is absolutely no recipe for staying in office,” Mr. Travers said. “When the threat of illness goes away, then the consequences of being protected from the threat are very different.”