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Almost two years on, would Bolsonaro’s voters back him again in future?

. Jun 12, 2020
supporters brazil bolsonaro Presidente Jair Bolsonaro during a demonstration in Brasília. Photo: José Cruz/ABr

Jair Bolsonaro is facing his worst popularity crisis since taking office as president in January 2019, according to polls. His denialism toward the Covid-19 pandemic and the accusation he tried to interfere in the Federal Police in order to shield his sons from investigation were the two pivotal facts of his dip in polling performance. In May, according to the latest data available, President Bolsonaro reached his peak rejection rate and lowest approval figures. Per a XP/Ipespe survey, 50 percent of respondents classified Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration as either ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’ — 14 percentage points more than in March. Supporters who rate it as ‘good’ or ‘great’ fell to just 25 percent. 

However, these findings do not mean President Bolsonaro is electorally isolated, nor does it mean

he is not a prime contender for winning a second term in 2022. His core support base has proven to be resistant to outside criticism and allegations of wrongdoing. Furthermore a large number of the voters who plumped for Mr. Bolsonaro in 2018 — even those who are dissatisfied with his government — are unconvinced that other parties can provide any better solutions.</p> <p>By <a href="https://www.fes-brasil.org/detalhe/bolsonarismo-em-crise/">studying Jair Bolsonaro’s voters</a>, political scientist Camila Rocha and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/08/28/esther-solano-jair-bolsonaro/">sociologist Esther Solano</a> have attempted to analyze the different kinds of discourses found in the electorate. They built a 27-person sample of voters who answered “yes”, “no,” and “I don’t know” when asked whether Mr. Bolsonaro would leave the presidency, and the resulting analysis allowed them to separate this group into three categories: faithful to the president, critical of the president, and regretful for having voted for Jair Bolsonaro.&nbsp;</p> <p>The qualitative research provides a portrait of President Bolsonaro’s support base and indicates how he lost part of his voters — besides their willingness to go back to supporting the president in 2022. Despite the decrease in popularity, the study concluded that Mr. Bolsonaro maintained the support of most of the respondents, who are still fueled by strong anti-Workers&#8217; Party sentiment, believing that anything would be better than the return of the reformist center-left party to government.</p> <h2>Bolsonaro hamstrung</h2> <p>Among the respondents, the general assessment of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is that the president has been unable to govern. His supporters highlight Congress and the press as the ones who hinder the president, getting in the way of his work.</p> <p>Congress is depicted as a hive of corruption and some interviewees argued the Legislative branch should be shut down. “In my opinion, Congress has to be closed. Jair [Bolsonaro] has his faults, but he is a guy who wants to do something, and people prevent him [from doing that], Congress does,” said a 41-year-old man labeled as a &#8216;regretful&#8217; voter.</p> <p>Professional journalism, on the other hand, splits opinion. One regretful Bolsonaro voter recognized the press&#8217; role to provide oversight to the government, but many others say Mr. Bolsonaro is being unfairly persecuted by the fifth estate. They say the press “manipulates” and “exaggerates” bad news, mainly related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Voicing conspiracy theories, they say the aim is to disturb the president.</p> <p>“The virus is being transmitted by Globo TV. Sometimes they say it comes from the air, from the ground, we do not know what is happening. We get lost. I think all of this is just a power war between big fish: governments, presidents, and the people who pay. This pandemic goes far beyond what we know,” said a 23-year-old woman, classified as a supporter &#8216;critical of the president.&#8217;</p> <h2>How the coronavirus affects the president&#8217;s image</h2> <p>His behavior facing the pandemic is President Bolsonaro’s main weakness among those interviewed. Most of them do not agree that Covid-19 is a “little flu,” as Mr. Bolsonaro said in March, and they disapprove of his participation in public demonstrations.&nbsp;</p> <p>One &#8216;regretful&#8217; supporter argued that the president mocks those who have died from the virus. “A disease that is affecting the whole world. And this guy tells me that it is the sniffles?”</p> <p>On the other hand, some faithful supporters — mainly men — see the president&#8217;s reaction as proof of courage. “Do you think it would be nice for our president to be at home, working remotely, without showing his face? In any kind of war, the king goes ahead of everyone,” said one 32-year-old faithful supporter.</p> <p>Most of the interviewees are stuck in a dilemma between saving lives and rescuing the economy. Many cited their own financial problems to justify doubts about quarantine measures. Their suggested solution is so-called &#8220;vertical isolation,&#8221; an idea floated by President Bolsonaro, without scientific backing, that would involve <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/26/governors-in-brazil-on-a-collision-course-with-president-bolsonaro/">only those in risk groups isolating at home</a>, and the rest of the population circulating as normal.&nbsp;</p> <p>“There will come a time when the neediest people will start invading houses and supermarkets to steal and make chaos. This cannot happen. What governments are doing, against President Bolsonaro, will end up leading to this chaos,” said one &#8216;critical&#8217; male supporter.</p> <h2>Sergio Moro and corruption</h2> <p>Bolsonaro was elected on an anti-corruption ticket, but has struggled to avoid suspicions around his family since taking office. Two of his sons are under investigation for wrongdoing, and he lost his most popular cabinet ministers when ex-judge Sergio Moro resigned, <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/24/could-sergio-moro-bring-down-second-president/">accusing Mr. Bolsonaro</a> of trying to interfere in the Federal Police to protect his sons.</p> <p>While the research showed plenty of support for Sergio Moro, those classified as &#8216;faithful&#8217; supporters described the former Justice Minister as an opportunist.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was shocked by [Sergio] Moro; I thought he was honest. I felt cheated by him. It was a stab in the back. Moro was an opportunist. I was in doubt at first with Bolsonaro, but then we saw that he was correct because Moro had sent everything to Globo. Moro didn’t want to investigate the guy who stabbed Bolsonaro,” said one.</p> <p>Most of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s supporters are critical of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/02/25/bolsonaro-brothers-government/">role the president’s sons</a> play in the government. They are unsure about the honesty of Congressman Eduardo, <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/01/18/flavio-bolsonaro-scandal-president/">Senator Flávio</a>, and Rio city councilor Carlos Bolsonaro, who all work closely with their father. Meanwhile, they have no such doubts about the president himself, but fear he may be led to ruin by trying to protect his sons.</p> <p>“He lives to save his children. (&#8230;) If it were only Jair Bolsonaro as president, there would be no problem at all. The problem is what he brought with him; it’s the children who have the problem. And to defend his children, he’s ruining his entire government plan. I speak directly to my children: man, if you make a mistake, you will pay yourself,” said one critical supporter, aged 45.</p> <h2>A &#8216;difficult choice&#8217; for supporters in 2022</h2> <p>For critical voters, the chance of voting for Mr. Bolsonaro again in 2022 is on the cards, but it would depend on the other options.</p> <p>Many of them have thought about backing other politicians, but resolved that they may well vote for the incumbent once more in two years&#8217; time. “If it comes down to a choice between Mr. Bolsonaro and another person, this other person needs to be really good for me not to choose the president again.”</p> <p>Among 2018 supporters who said they regretted voting for President Bolsonaro, there is still no doubt about who they would pick should it come down to Mr. Bolsonaro and the center-left Workers&#8217; Party.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I’m really lost, I gambled strongly on Jair, and I was disappointed, I have no other person I can think of to put in his place. If it were between Mr. Bolsonaro and the [Workers&#8217; Party], I would vote for Bolsonaro. I am anti-Workers&#8217; Party.”

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José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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