Will women prevent Jair Bolsonaro from becoming Brazil’s next president?

. Sep 21, 2018
women bolsonaro Women voters could cost Bolsonaro the election

A couple of days ago, Datafolha published its latest presidential poll, showing – once again – far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the lead, followed by Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad. That in itself is not surprising, considering that Mr. Bolsonaro had led the race for quite some time (when former president Lula wasn’t on the ballot). But one aspect of the poll was surprising: Mr. Bolsonaro is polling at 21 percent among women – ahead of all competitors and up by 7 points since August 22. 

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But why would a woman vote for Jair Bolsonaro? He has hardly missed a single opportunity to express his sexism. “You don’t even deserve to be raped.” “Slut.” “Idiot.” “I wouldn’t pay (men and women) the same wage.” And this is just a quick recap of some of his remarks over the past few years. In 2013, Mr. Bolsonaro voted against a bill granting labor rights to housemaids (who are in most cases women), saying that he would otherwise “have to pay for [the] maid’s son’s kindergarten classes.”

If the Brazilian electorate were made up only of men, Mr. Bolsonaro would possibly win in the first round (he is getting 36 percent of the male vote so far). Women are the ones holding him off – as 43 percent of them reject the far-right candidate, according to Datafolha. Still, another 21 percent back him, despite his sexism.

A look at the numbers

Despite having improved his stock among women, the support for Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidential bid is highly concentrated among more affluent voters, with a discrepancy of 18 points. Among wealthier women, the far-right candidate polls at 32 percent, almost the double of his second-best opponent, the Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, who appears with 17 percent among them.

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Jair Bolsonaro’s female voters tend to focus on the issue that has become the former Army captain’s trademark: public safety. Mr. Bolsonaro’s stance on crime – “a good criminal is a dead criminal” –  resonates with wealthier, conservative circles in Brazil. And in a country where over 63,000 people were murdered last year alone, public safety is no small issue.

His proposal to curb rape in Brazil also doesn’t deal with women’s rights at all. Instead, he proposes that convicted rapists undergo a chemical castration process.

“The sexist remarks are often seen as an example of how honest he is,” said sociologist Esther Solano, who researched the motivations of far-right voters, to Carta Capital.

One of the candidate’s main proposals is to cut down gun control laws. “If women are armed, we won’t have femicides anymore. Only ‘man-slaughter,'” Mr. Bolsonaro jokingly stated a few weeks ago.

However, mothers who live in peripheral areas where violence is much more severe, tend not to respond to that rhetoric, as many of their family members are the very victims of guns.

It also doesn’t help that Mr. Bolsonaro’s vice presidential nominee, former Army General Hamilton Mourão, recently said children raised by their mothers and grandmothers are bound to become degenerates.

Women with Bolsonaro?

According to an analysis by political scientist Jairo Nicolau, the far-right hopeful holds an unprecedented discrepancy between male and female voting intentions. “Women may become an insurmountable barrier for his triumph,” in the researcher’s opinion. However, he points out that undecided voters may change that scenario.

The latest Datafolha poll shows that 23 percent of female voters are leaning towards spoiling their votes or haven’t chosen their candidate yet. Mr. Nicolau thinks such shift in the landscape is unlikely, mostly because of the far-right politician’s agenda – subjects such as public security and his natural aggressiveness and warring attitude tend to speak closer to the men’s hearts.  

But there’s a group of women who are rallying around Mr. Bolsonaro. A Facebook group called “Women With Bolsonaro” has gathered roughly 860,000 members in a week. The group is a response to another one, created on September 11, against Jair Bolsonaro.

“Women United Against Bolsonaro” reached over 2 million members in last than three weeks. Bolsonaro supporters hacked the group, but the attack wasn’t enough to avoid the creation of a wide range of marches scheduled to September 29 in 42 cities of Brazil. In São Paulo, at least 270,000 women are willing to be part of the protest. To avoid naming Mr. Bolsonaro – they don’t want his mentions on social media’s trending topics – women are using the hashtag #elenão (not him) to communicate and express their disregard for the candidate.

Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

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