Brazil about to have its most digital political campaign ever

. Jun 22, 2020
2020 election campaign brazil coronavirus Brazilian voter registration app. Photo: Gabriel Ramos/Shutterstock

In the 2018 election, an innovative model of digital political campaigning substantiated the triumph of Jair Bolsonaro and many of his allies. In 2020, also due to the coronavirus pandemic, canvassing social media will be a necessity for every politician. In Mr. Bolsonaro’s case, the strategy was employed out of necessity, in order to close the gap to his better-established rivals. He won the election without the backing of a traditional party, with a cheaper campaign, using a strong net of digital supporters. Online backers which are under investigation for using illegal mass sending of messages and fake news on Whatsapp, which the president denies.

Despite the uncertainty about how the next campaign will unfold, it is highly unlikely that candidates will be able to hold in-person rallies or knock on doors. This will be a dramatic change to the dynamic of municipal elections in a country with 5,570 cities, most of them small towns accustomed to certain physical proximity with their elected officials.

</p> <p>Political scientist Vitor Marchetti, professor at the Federal University of ABC, emphasizes that digital campaign strategies which proved to be effective in 2018 would still gain importance this year, even without the coronavirus pandemic. And in this new scenario, with social media taking center stage, the politicians who have already been working on their online network of supporters go in with an advantage.</p> <p>“With this new reality, totally dependent on the mobilization of social networks, those who are already established in this new scenario will be favored,” says Mr. Marchetti. He also sees politicians who have strong bases in trade unions and social movements as being in a good position. The challenge will be to attract new voters in this unique environment.</p> <p>The Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party, one of the most traditional groups in Brazilian politics, is wary of this new reality. One of the <a href="">biggest losers</a> of the 2018 general elections, the party is still the strongest in the country on a municipal level and will be looking to hold onto the top spot by winning and holding mayoral races.</p> <p>“People will be less willing to gather in public, go out on the streets, and have politicians in their homes, which usually happens in municipal politics,” says Newton Cardoso Jr., member of Congress and General Secretary of the MDB, speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. “We will need to campaign more intensively on social networks, in an online way. We will have online meetings, lives. It is a new routine for congress members, candidates, and all those involved in politics.”</p> <p>These polls occur in the middle of the terms of the president and state governors, and they are essential for building alliances looking ahead to 2022. At least formally, President Jair Bolsonaro has said he will step back from local disputes, as he is currently without a party.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-4224614"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>No dates, no format</h2> <p>Elections in Brazil happen every two years, alternating between municipal and general races — the latter involving the president, Congress, and state governments. The first and second rounds of voting always take place on the first and last Sundays of October, a rule ingrained in the Constitution.</p> <p>With coronavirus deaths and cases still rising, there is uncertainty about when and how the polls will take place. Currently, the municipal election is still scheduled for October 4 and 25, but this is unlikely to go ahead. The Electoral Court, the institution in charge of arranging elections, had been <a href="">refusing to postpone</a> the ballot, but its new president admitted a new plan is being analyzed.</p> <p>Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso wants to hold the vote between November 15 and December 20. He argues that a team of public health specialists has previewed the decline of coronavirus’s first wave in Brazil for August or September. Scheduling the elections for November and December, the court would have a safety margin.&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason for refusing a longer postponement is constitutional. Terms in office start and finish on January 1. To delay the campaign until the next year would require an extension to current terms, which can be dangerous in a democracy. “Extending terms would be a death blow in our democracy. Nobody can have anything more than what they were elected for,” said Brazil’s House Speaker Rodrigo Maia.</p> <p>Mr. Maia, coincidentally, is a crucial figure in the discussion over delaying the election, as Congress would have to approve any potential changes to the election rules. The role of the electoral court is to inform lawmakers of a feasible timetable to hold municipal elections, but this means nothing if the parliament doesn’t approve the necessary constitutional amendments. These changes require two rounds of voting in each congressional house, with two-third majorities.</p> <h2>How it works</h2> <p>By design, Brazil’s electoral system is especially problematic during a pandemic. The vote is compulsory, held in closed places and using electronic ballot boxes. Elections happen in a single day, between 8 am and 5 pm, putting lots of people in the same area, in line, for several minutes or even hours. Voters also have to touch a voting machine that hundreds of others have already used that same day.</p> <p>Luis Roberto Barroso hasn’t provided details beyond delaying election day, but he also seems to be willing to change this dynamic. That is why he is proposing a timeframe for the elections rather than a fixed date. “Extending the election day for a longer time and trying to divide it into shifts to avoid concentration and public gathering. Public health is our main concern, right behind the preservation of democracy,” said Mr. Barroso, in an interview with TV Cultura.</p> <h2>Monothematic campaign</h2> <p>In Brazil, the federal and state governments are the ones who run the health system. But the pandemic is such a huge problem that it may monopolize the discussions at the municipal level.</p> <p>In April, the Supreme Court decided that mayors, alongside governors, are in charge of isolation measures. This means that the closures or reopenings of shops and restaurants, for instance, may influence voters&#8217; decisions.</p> <p>“Mayors who got good results may do better than mayors who were brought into question. Brazilians are very sensitive to the pandemic; isolationist governors are better in evaluation. In the end, politicians will be judged less for the last four years and more for the previous four months,” said Mr. Marchetti.

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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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