Bolsonaro’s popularity burns while Amazon could make fertile ground for the left

. Sep 02, 2019
bolsonaro popularity down President Bolsonaro. Photo: PR

According to the latest study from reputable pollster Datafolha, President Jair Bolsonaro’s rejection rates have risen by five percentage points in just under two months. Besides rattling his popularity around the world, the Amazon forest fire crisis also appears to have eroded domestic support for Mr. Bolsonaro, with 38 percent classifying his government as “bad or terrible,” as opposed to 33 percent at the beginning of July.

Datafolha also found that if the 2018 runoff election were to be held again today, Jair Bolsonaro would lose to

Workers&#8217; Party candidate Fernando Haddad, by 42 percent to 36 (a narrow margin for sure, but outside of the confidence interval). In October of last year, Mr. Bolsonaro won the election with 55 percent of valid votes.</p> <p>Beyond proving that Jair Bolsonaro is the least popular first-term Brazilian president since the 1990s, these numbers also show that from the scorched earth of the Amazon rainforest, there is fertile ground for the country&#8217;s left-wing.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/640258"></div><script src=""></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Left behind</h2> <p>However, since the beginning of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s government, the political opposition from the moderate left has been nearly non-existent. With the government proposing sweeping pension and tax reforms, established left-of-center parties have not offered alternative programs. And, non-partisan protests in defense of the education system aside, leading left organizations have seen their ability to mobilize the masses on the street dwindle further, in a process that began gradually during the tail end of the Workers&#8217; Party era in power.</p> <p>Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s opposition has either come from within his own ranks, or from center-right parties in Congress.</p> <p>The disarray of the president&#8217;s Social Liberal Party (PSL), made up largely of first-time politicians, and the consolidation of legislative power by the right-leaning &#8220;<a href="">Big Center</a>,&#8221; have caused successive headaches for Jair Bolsonaro. However, left-wing parties remain bystanders in these squabbles.</p> <p>The situation is such that some left-wing voters have found themselves jokingly cheering on the likes of Alexandre Frota—the <a href="">right-wing former porn star who defected from Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s party</a>—or Rodrigo Maia, the &#8220;<a href="">all-powerful</a>&#8221; House Speaker, who has entered into public spats with the president and his family. There are no leading left-wing figures who have caused such any such trouble for Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>When Tabata Amaral—a young centrist <a href="">funded by big capital</a>—demolished former Education Minister Ricardo Vélez during a congressional committee session in March, there was a concerted attempt from the online Brazilian left to try and welcome her into their ranks. Five months later, she voted in favor of the government&#8217;s pension reform and has been flirting with joining the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the traditional home of the establishment right.</p> <h2>A rise from the ashes?</h2> <p>The <a href="">Amazon fire crisis</a>, however, has opened up a space upon which <a href="">the left may capitalize</a>. With the president&#8217;s image wounded—as shown by today&#8217;s Datafolha numbers—and the center and right-wing left with their hands tied due to their links to agribusiness, left-wing parties present themselves as the only credible voices of dissidence within Congress.&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to the Brazilian media last week, world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky noted that the Amazon crisis should serve as an &#8220;<a href="">inflection point</a>&#8221; for the left to form a concerted opposition against Jair Bolsonaro, with Mr. Chomsky also stating that &#8220;Brazil hasn&#8217;t built an opposition [to Mr. Bolsonaro] yet.&#8221;</p> <p>The most common criticism of the Workers&#8217; Party—which remains the largest establishment force to the left of center—is that they have become <a href="">fixated on the Free Lula campaign</a>. The imprisoned former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is still the leading icon of the party, and the demand that he be freed from jail—echoed by many left-wing pundits and academics, including Mr. Chomsky—has dominated the party&#8217;s efforts.</p> <p>While acknowledging the importance of fighting for Lula&#8217;s release, Mr. Chomsky pointed out that the Workers&#8217; Party must also engage in self-criticism as a way of recuperating lost votes and reconciling the left.</p> <p>&#8220;The party needs to reflect on its errors because it joined in with the generalized culture of corruption in the country. It didn&#8217;t invent this culture, it must have been worse during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, but joining it was an enormous error,&#8221; he told <em>Folha de S. Paulo.</em></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/641591"></div><script src=""></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>However, the need for the left to rally does not rely exclusively on the Workers&#8217; Party. The current chairperson of the party, Congresswoman Gleisi Hoffmann, has recently launched a plan to form a united left-wing front against Jair Bolsonaro, involving federal, state, and municipal politics, with one eye on the mayoral elections of 2020. But the plan has been boycotted by the Democratic Labor Party and Brazilian Socialist Party, two crucial center-left organizations who have felt betrayed by Lula, Ms. Hoffmann and the Workers&#8217; Party as a whole.</p> <h2>Behind Bolsonaro&#8217;s popularity numbers</h2> <p>The Datafolha poll highlighted some key groups that are dissatisfied with the president, with some of the leading rejection rates coming from residents of the poorer Northeast region and the unemployed. Atheists are also overwhelmingly against Mr. Bolsonaro, while <a href="">neo-pentecostal evangelists</a> remain one of his biggest support bases, along with business owners.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/640274"></div><script src=""></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>Perhaps even more noteworthy is Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s drop in support among wealthier voters—among which his approval ratings plummeted from 52 percent in July to just 37 percent now. If the president wants to remain a kingmaker in the 2020 municipal elections, he will have to branch out from his usual core supporters—and speak in a more moderate tone.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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