Source: Agence France-Presse
Note: This piece was originally published in Portuguese on September 1 by IREE (O Instituto para Reforma das Relações entre Estado e Empresa), a Brazilian think tank based in São Paulo.
To read the original piece, click here.
For the past year, quantitative polls produced by various institutes have been revealing the constant decline in [President of Brazil] Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity among various social and socioeconomic strata. However, there has not yet been conducted a study that comprehensively captures the feelings and perceptions of the Bolsonarista electorate in depth.
Considering this void, the qualitative research study “Bolsonarismo no Brasil” (“Bolsonarismo in Brazil”), produced by IREE and the Laboratório de Estudos de Mídia e Esfera Pública do Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (the Laboratory for the Study of the Media and the Public Sphere at the Institute of Social and Political Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro), represents a pioneering effort in studying the phenomenon of Bolsonarismo through a series of targeted focus groups.
During the month of May 2021, we convened 24 groups, consisting of approximately 200 people, in six state capitals throughout the country. Organized based upon variables such as religious affiliation and identification, age, and social class, these discussions produced insights as only qualitative methodologies can, promoting in-depth debate among the participants and generating revelatory data in the process.
The focus groups were oriented around five central axes, related to the “values” of the people who cast a ballot for Bolsonaro in 2018. These were: family, security, military, the COVID-19 pandemic / science, and corruption. The results point to the fluid character of a “doutrina Bolsonarista”—that is, there appears to be no solid, consistent set of conservative principles guiding this electorate.
It is notable that aspects popularly assumed to be predominant within this group that voted for Bolsonaro—such as support for dictatorship (or at least a skepticism of democracy), or the relaxation of restrictions on the carrying and possession of firearms—are far from boasting widespread consensus, even among the most loyal Bolsonaro supporters.
The COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed as a turning point in the weakening of Bolsonarismo. The study organized participants based upon any previous manifestation of feelings of regret for voting for Bolsonaro in 2018 and sought to understand what the reasons for such feelings within this specific segment of respondents. If, for some participants, regret set in only a few months after Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2019—due especially to his posture of constant conflict and confrontation with other political institutions—what solidified their irreversible abandonment of Bolsonaro was his detached and nonchalant response to the greatest health crisis of the century. Respondents’ repetition of the word “irresponsibility” to define the president’s posture, whether he was rejecting various offers of vaccines from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer or promoting unproven remedies such as hydroxychloroquine, was striking.
We identified that, among moderate Bolsonarista voters—those who still support the president but express some criticism of his administration—Bolsonaro’s management of the pandemic is a particular target of their ire. It is worth noting that the expectations of the president among those participants interviewed is generally quite low. They are keen to emphasize that, in the face of a serious virus such as COVID-19, not everything is the president’s “fault”; for them, it appears that more public expressions of empathy from Bolsonaro would be largely sufficient to soothe their concerns.
The option of leaving General Eduardo Pazuello [Minister of Health from September 2020 until March 2021] at the head of the Ministry of Health for so long is another target of discontent in this segment of the pro-Bolsonaro electorate that still supports the president despite some reservations. The responses of some participants revealed some inconsistencies with respect to the preoccupation with the ubiquity of military personnel in the Planalto [that is, the country’s executive branch of government]. Among these participants, the legitimacy of military engagement in civilian affairs of governance is considered on an individual, case-by-case basis, with apparent “technical competence”—which Pazuello, for instance, is widely considered to lack—being the operative criterion.
If, among his most loyal segment of the electorate, support for Bolsonaro is effectively limitless and unconditional, the same cannot be said about the segment consisting of the president’s moderate supporters. They view Bolsonaro’s constant and relentless stoking of political tensions as potentially hindering the resolution of the country’s political and economic woes.
Polls show that Bolsonaro’s loyal electoral base consists of a very small core of voters, who are incapable of taking Bolsonaro to the second round of the 2022 presidential election on their own. Meanwhile, the patience and support of his moderate supporters is tested every day—from his recent offensives against the Supremo Tribunal Federal [STF, Brazil’s highest court] to his calls for armed uprising on September 7. It is unsurprising, therefore, that voting intentions for former president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva [Bolsonaro’s prospective 2022 rival, although he has not yet officially declared his candidacy] continue to grow.
Carolina de Paula, Executive Director of DataIESP (a research institute connected to the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ)) and consultant for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), holds a Ph.D. in political science from UERJ.
All opinions and content are solely the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Global Americans or IREE.