Bolsonaro went against Carnival this year ...

President Jair Bolsonaro is the least popular first-term head of state in the first three months of government. His approval rating is comparable to presidents in their second terms—after years taking political hits. This poses a stark contrast to his growing popularity on social media.  Despite preaching union in his inauguration speech, the president has sowed division within Brazilian society. Mimicking Donald Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro engaged his loyal social media base through controversial issues, attacking Carnival celebrations, the press, and even his allies.

In his first three months, Mr. Bolsonaro was true to the conservative agenda he has always supported, in fighting what he calls “gender ideology” (a dog-whistle term for homophobia) and adopting a hard-line approach against crime. Meanwhile, the opposition seems to take every piece of bait, fueling the “Us v. Them” narrative.

The tweeting president

The president continues to increase his presence on Twitter, sharing both his political views and official announcements in social media even before official press releases. This new style is a first in Brazilian politics and it is starting to cause trouble. During the peak of the crisis with Congress, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia said the president “should spend more time taking care of the pension reform than (taking care of) his Twitter.”

According to research by Congresso em Foco, 75.4 percent of party leaders in Congress think the administration is poorly managing the pension reform negotiations. One of the most common criticisms of the president’s style is that, by spending time and energy on issues such as claiming Nazism is a left-wing idea, and retweeting videos of golden showers, he diverts attention from what really matters.

What to expect

“Involving himself in controversy is part of a certain game, but it is irrelevant for the decisions the country has to make. There are at least two sides of the matter; those who dislike the government emphasize these issues. The government does not bother about it, Jair Bolsonaro grows in a polarized environment.” Fernando Schuler, political scientist and professor at Insper

“Adopting a controversial profile that goes in an opposite direction (than traditional political parties) meets the strategy of mobilizing voters, but does not offer a perspective about what the government will do to get out of the crisis. There is criticism of old politics, but no indication of what is the new one”. José Alvaro Moisés, Political Science professor at University of São Paulo

Girls wear pink, boys wear blue

Among the controversial cabinet, the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, is by far one of the most vocal members of the administration regarding the government’s conservative agenda. From the beginning of her term she has drawn attention for her political stances towards issues such as gender, stirring turbulence on social media. However, she is also following the goals established for the area, fostering campaigns to prevent suicide and self-harm. Recently, Ms. Alves said the government is working on a provisional measure to regulate homeschooling in Brazil—another of the department’s goals.

What to expect

“The president was elected expressing a conservative agenda that was approved by the majority of Brazilians. It is absolutely natural for Ms. Alves to express conservative ideas, that’s part of democracy.”  Fernando Schuler, political scientist and professor at Insper

Security measures stuck in Congress

Addressing one of his main campaign promises, Mr. Bolsonaro eased requirements for owning weapons and quickly submitted the so-called anti-crime package proposed by Minister Sergio Moro to Congress, fulfilling the goals it set for the first administration. So far, the bill is being overshadowed by the pension reform in Congress and Mr. Moro’s retreat about illegal campaign financing wasn’t well received.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Security is preparing a program to fight violent crimes, but it won’t take effect until the second half of the year. Meanwhile, cases of violence have not let up on the news, making people wonder about the effectiveness of the government in one of its major causes.  

What to expect

“There is a backlog of bills in Congress, including proposals to fight crime and corruption. I believe this will make the process slower in parliament and the pension bill is a priority. Violence is a structural problem and solutions are normally for the medium and long term. However, the government still owes a faster and more effective answer to society when it comes to the short term. This could be one of the factors that led to his popularity drop.” Fernando Schuler, political scientist and professor at Insper

“The government has presented the anti-crime bill, but it is not clear how it will proceed in Congress, as the pension reform is the priority. Minister Sergio Moro himself has expressed concerns about it. So far we have only seen this bill, I do not see any other action that signals how the administration intends to act about public security.”  José Alvaro Moisés, Political Science professor at University of São Paulo

Blaming the thermometer for the fever

Mr. Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked pollsters and statistics institutes, as well as questioning their methods, after unfavorable results. The measure has been questioned by economists and the media, who claim the government is actually putting its head in the sand to avoid facing Brazil’s real economic and political issues.

What to expect

It is natural that the government will lose a bit of its popularity, because the country is experiencing a crisis, with high unemployment and little growth. [Mr. Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party] has little experience and some negotiation mistakes have occurred. So, it is natural to have some popularity losses, but it is not expressive. I don’t think that his criticism of pollsters is a big deal. It is part of democracy to express criticism and be criticized.” Fernando Schuler, political scientist and professor at Insper

“The president’s posture towards agencies and results offered by institutes presents a government that does not deal well with criticism and adds to the feeling of a government that rarely explores rationality. At worst, it affects the president and the administration’s credibility.”  Rafael Cortez, partner and political scientist at Tendências consultancy.

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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.