The Brazil that comes out of the polls: socioeconomic and political perspectives

/ Online Transmission - Zoom

After the 2022 elections, the Lula administration will have a window of opportunity to approach the more moderate Evangelical electorate, who felt uncomfortable with the excessive politicization of cults in favor of the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, defeated in his re-election bid. To be successful in defining a new relationship, the future administration must avoid initiatives prone to rejection by the conservative Christian electorate and, at the same time, advance public policies aimed at families, especially those who most need the support of the State to have a dignified and safe life with prospects for improvement.

“The challenge for the democratic field is to understand the fears and anxieties that have been fiercely exploited by the far right in recent years instead of making light of them or folklorizing them. It is essential to understand how these feelings are connected to the life experience, ideas, beliefs, and affections of Evangelical families and seek to reconnect with them through public policies that, in fact, value the family,” said Spanish sociologist Esther Solano, who lives in Brazil and has dedicated herself for several years to studying the Brazilian electorate based on qualitative research with focus groups.

The new administration will also have the opportunity to seek rapprochement with the population of medium and small cities in the countryside of Brazil, close to the rural world, whose economies have been boosted by agribusiness revenues, particularly in the Midwest. “It is a fact that agribusiness mostly supported Bolsonaro, but how people voted in rural and countryside areas, including those impacted by the presence of agriculture and livestock, is more heterogeneous than an impressionist or shortsighted view could lead us to believe,” said sociologist Arilson Favareto, a researcher at CEBRAP, where he coordinates the Center for Studies and Research on the Environment, Development and Sustainability.

According to the professor of the Graduate Program in Territorial Planning and Management at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC), there is a lack of sustainable socioeconomic development projects aimed at these new centers, which have had better economic performance than the metropolises and need a more careful and nuanced look by the government. “It is necessary to set aside generalizations and prejudices and try to understand the different realities that exist today in the countryside of Brazil, from North to South and even within each region of the country,” said Favaretto.

“Even colleagues who worked at the Ministry of Cities (discontinued in 2019) joked that it could be called the Ministry of Metropolises, as there are no specific policies that meet the needs of small and medium-sized cities in different regions of the country, be it in the Amazon or the South—two direct opposites. Some regions manage on their own, but the State needs to be present to guarantee security and legality. Others rely heavily on public transfers. The Lula administration must pay attention to this “new rural” emerging with force, which is here to stay,” he said.

“Social class is a fundamental cleavage in defining people’s vote, but is race unimportant? No! We need to overcome this division between social class and race, which was dominant in the 1970s and 1980s when it was discussed whether the problem in Brazil was race or social class. In fact, the problem is how these two things intersect. When we research Black middle classes, we see a great weight of the racial issue in electoral choices because they are groups that perceive discrimination very clearly as they have already overcome the class stigma,” explained sociologist Luiz Augusto Campos, coordinator of the Affirmative Action Multidisciplinary Study Group (GEMAA) at IESP-UERJ.

The three social scientists were invited by the FHC Foundation to provide a deeper reading of the 2022 election results, setting aside stereotypes and seeking to understand trends in social relations from a perspective of religion, economic geography (rural-urban), and race.

Women from underprivileged areas are the gateway to dialogue with the Evangelical world

Esther Solano, professor at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), began her presentation by saying that “2018 was an amateur job compared to how things were done in 2022” in the universe of Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal churches. “During the 2022 presidential race, there was a demonization of the Workers’ Party and the leftist project, with the repeating warning in cults that those who voted for Lula would go to hell or be expelled from the community, which caused a lot of fear, especially in the underprivileged areas, where the Evangelical church is often the main place of welcoming and support for poor religious families,” explained the sociologist.

“However, even though the rhetoric was effective in guaranteeing the majority of the Evangelical votes for Bolsonaro, little by little, we saw the emergence of a feeling of rejection of the excessive politicization of the cults and the attempt to manipulate the vote, especially in a more moderate Evangelical electorate. In my qualitative research with focus groups, I heard people saying, “the pastors say that Christians will be persecuted in the case of a Lula administration, but we are already suffering persecution inside the churches,” said the researcher.

According to Solano, now that the election is over, the more moderate people want peace, stability, and unity for the country’s future, “they want to sit at the table with their family on Sunday and live together without fighting because of politics.” “If you know how to read people’s real desires and needs accurately, there are interesting possibilities to be explored,” she added.

Solano highlighted that Evangelical women from underprivileged areas could be a gateway to a constructive dialogue between the new administration and the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal world. “These more vulnerable women were the preferred target of the narrative that the left had a project to destroy the Brazilian family, but at the same time, they need consistent public policies for their children and their family. The priority of the Lula administration must be to put the family issue back where, in a secular State as determined by the Brazilian Constitution, it should always be, that is, in public policies that benefit everyone, but mainly those who need it most,” she explained.

Solano recalled, however, that there is no point in seeking dialogue with the Evangelical community only during election periods, that is, every two years: “You can’t shut down the dialogue after winning the election; it is vital to establish a political relationship, in the broadest sense, one that is permanent and constructive, to gather support for a project of a progressive and humane Brazil during the four years in office. It is impossible to build a re-enchantment with democracy if we are not effectively present in the territory, working in partnership with the religious ecosystem of social support.”

It is also important to understand that the underprivileged areas of the 1970s and 1980s, which the Catholic left movements knew well, have greatly changed. “Today, meritocracy and entrepreneurship are widespread in underprivileged communities. Are we going to dialogue with this new mentality that Neo-Pentecostal churches value? What public policies make sense in the underprivileged communities of the 21st century?” she asked.

For Solano, it’s time to put aside the more radical identity discourse and seek to establish connections with intelligence, moderation, and strategy. “Religious women have a good dose of conservatism, but they are open to dialogue when their lives and the lives of their families are at stake. It is possible to talk about the role of women in society, the challenges of women’s work, domestic violence, health, and the education of children, among other topics. That’s why they are the best gateway to the deradicalization of the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal world,” she concluded.

Environmental agenda needs to return to legality, but with pragmatism

Favaretto began his presentation demystifying the idea that the most economically dynamic Brazil, including the countryside where agribusiness flourishes, would have voted for Bolsonaro, while Lula would have won in the less developed and poorer regions. Often, the “modern” and the “old-fashioned” coexist. “Rural Brazil is not homogeneous. Even if we consider commodity-producing regions, there are differences we need to draw attention to. In the Matopiba (a territory that includes parts of the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí, and Bahia), former president Lula won in almost all municipalities,” he said.

According to the researcher, in some areas of the Midwest and North of the country, people have the feeling that in recent years “money has been circulating like never before” and that this has to do with the vision that “now everything can be done,” put into practice by the Bolsonaro administration. “Deregulation and the reduction of environmental inspections in recent years were seen as an opportunity by socioeconomic sectors in some regions of the country. Other groups, however, including some linked to agribusiness, understand that they can lose with this free-for-all and demand the presence of the State to protect the environment and fight crime,” he explained.

According to Favaretto, the new administration’s environmental agenda must be guided by the resumption of legality but “with a high degree of pragmatism to present results in the short term and, thus, reducing the political cost of the decisions that may lie ahead.”

Finally, the speaker criticized a development model based mainly on the production of commodities and a possible return to the social developmentalism experienced by the Workers’ Party administrations between 2002 and 2016. “Both seem like short-lived projects to me. The future lies in sustainable development, technological innovation, and integration between the rural and urban worlds,” he concluded.

Brazil is living in an institutional apartheid

For Luiz Augusto Campos, author and co-author of several articles and books on race and politics, among them Raça e Eleições no Brasil (“Race and Elections in Brazil”) and Ação Afirmativa: conceito, história e debates (“Affirmative Action: concept, history and debates”), there is a kind of “institutional apartheid” in the relationship between State and society in Brazil.

“Those who use public services such as Brazil’s Unified Health System (SUS) and public schools, even if inefficient or insufficient, are mainly lower-income Brazilians, especially Black men, women and children, and the poorest. But those who formulate these policies are, in general, middle- and upper-class White men,” said the sociology and political science professor from the Institute of Social and Political Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP-UERJ).

“To improve the effectiveness of policies and public services, we must take a step forward in the representativeness and quality of the Brazilian political class. In recent elections, there has been increased progress. Still, we need bolder policies to overcome the under-representation of gender and race in decision-making more quickly,” said Campos.

Watch the full video from the webinar (in Portuguese). 

Download Bernardo Sorj’s book Identidades e crise da democracia (“Identities and the Crisis of Democracy”) for free.

Otávio Dias is the content editor at Fundação FHC. He is a political and international affairs journalist, a former correspondent for Folha de São Paulo in London, and former editor of the website.

Portuguese to English translation by Melissa Harkin & Todd Harkin (Harkin Translations).


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