When delivering his inauguration speech, President Jair Bolsonaro talked about uniting all Brazilians. He promised to look after the interests of society as a whole—not just of some privileged groups which made up his electorate. After six months, however, Mr. Bolsonaro’s increasingly paltry approval ratings show that his words haven’t translated into actions.

After six months in office, he is Brazil’s least-popular leader at this stage of his term, with 33 percent rating his administration as either “good or great.” An equal amount of people find him “bad or terrible”—with the remaining third of the population landing somewhere in the middle.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This split is not necessarily a new phenomenon. The Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s former marketeer, Duda Mendonça, used to say that one-third of Brazil was with the party, no matter what; another third would be against them, no matter what; and the rest would decide at the election. What is noteworthy is that the country remains in this campaign-like mood at the beginning of an administration, in what was supposed to be Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s honeymoon period.</span></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/477052"></div> <p><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></p> <h2>Bolsonaro unable to tone down</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro won what was arguably the most divisive political campaign in Brazilian democratic history, meaning that becoming a popular figure was always going to be more difficult for him than for his predecessors. But the president has refused to abandon his campaign rhetoric, making that task so much harder.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Instead of extending an olive branch to groups which didn&#8217;t vote for him, the president has chosen to cater only to his group of hardcore supporters. In a meeting with members of the rural caucus, for example, he reportedly told them &#8220;this government is yours.&#8221; Meanwhile, he has refused to dialogue with indigenous leaders—saying he doesn&#8217;t recognize their legitimacy.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">At the same time as refusing to seek support from the other side of the aisle, Mr. Bolsonaro incites public displays of support from his backers—who have already staged not one, but two demonstrations in support of the government. &#8220;We are talking about a far-right government that is, by nature, inclined to sow division. And that will naturally reflect on society,&#8221; says Claudio Couto, a professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas and a <a href="https://brazilian.report/author/claudiocouto/">columnist</a> at </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <h2>Not delivering enough</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another reason for Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s lack of popularity is more practical: his administration has not delivered enough for Brazilians to believe that Brazil is set to grow again. Over the year&#8217;s first quarter, the GDP shrank, and the country is flirting with another recession. The government&#8217;s only major project for the economy has been the pension reform—a topic on which the president has been non-committal at best.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Last week, Mr. Bolsonaro lobbied to get better retirement conditions for law enforcement agents, a move that would set a dangerous precedent and risk the effectiveness of the reform. &#8220;If we oblige one organized lobby, all the others will come after us,&#8221; said Congressman Arthur Lira on Monday.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Back in December, the reality was different, as 75 percent of voters believed that Mr. Bolsonaro and his team were &#8220;on the right track,&#8221; based on the moves made by his transition team. Now, Brazilians have grown pessimistic about the economy, with 40 percent of workers believing they have at least some risk of getting fired.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Financial markets, which jumped on the Bolsonaro bandwagon last year, are also lowering their predictions for the economy. At the beginning of the year, GDP growth projections measured by the Focus Report—a weekly survey by the Central Bank with top-rated investment firms—were hovering around 2.5 percent. In the latest issue of the report, they had plummeted to only 0.82 percent.</span></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/476914"></div> <p><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Education has also been another field where the government has accomplished the least. Already on his second Education Minister, Mr. Bolsonaro has done little more than to publish social media diatribes about left-leaning universities. His cabinet approved a 30-percent budget cut (which triggered massive protests from educators and students).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Per Datafolha, 15 percent of people list education as Brazil&#8217;s most-urgent problem—the highest since 1996. In April, the rate was at 10 percent, showing a 50-percent jump in a matter of less than three months. </span></p> <h2>Losing ground with important demographics</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s approval ratings have remained stable. He gained support among older, wealthier voters, but has lost ground among youngsters—a group that helped push him across the finish line in October 2018.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Part of the wealthier vote is becoming more critical of the president: among those earning between 5 and 10 times the minimum wage, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s approval rating dropped from 43 to 37 percent. His figures went up among those earning over 10 times the minimum wage (from 41 to 52 percent), but this is a much less sizeable group.

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PowerJul 08, 2019

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.