Friday, August 14, 2020

Bolsonaro's Popularity

I recommend Brian Winter's article in Foreign Affairs on the durability of Jair Bolsonaro's popularity, which in fact just went up. He zeroes in on the country's interior:

The interiorzão is not defined on any map, but it generally refers to a belt of land sagging around the country’s geographic midsection, from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in the west through Goiás, Minas Gerais, and parts of Bahia in the east. This is a Brazil of soy farms and cattle ranches, oversize Ford pickup trucks, air-conditioned shopping malls, and all-you-can-eat steakhouses. Some of it is old, but much of it was erected only in the last 30 years or so. Instead of Afro-Catholic syncretism and bossa nova, it boasts evangelical megachurches and sertanejo, a kind of tropicalized country music sung by barrel-chested men in cowboy hats and Wrangler jeans.It is Brazil's equivalent to flyover country, parts that are not tourist destinations and do not correspond to the foreigner's view of the country as a whole. As with Trump in the U.S., it constitutes a core of support that's not likely to fall away.
I can imagine a similar worldview holding there and here. What I consider to be destroying institutions, Bolsonaro/Trump supporters see "getting things done." What I see as unacceptable rhetoric, they see as a return to morality. What I see as conspiracy theories, they see as truths. What I clearly see as lying, they see as "telling it like it is." Brazil's political history is so different from the U.S., but there are parallels here.

As Brian writes, quite a few elites have repented their support for Bolsonaro. The same has happened here, but that doesn't necessarily signal change. That core is still there, and they love the show they're seeing. The difficulty for any analyst is to truly move away from trying to sort out self-interest. People adore their president despite the fact that he is screwing them. Depressed economic growth, rampant virus, you name it (wrecked post office, even!).

From an electoral standpoint, it's sobering. The party systems of the two countries are so different that comparison isn't worthwhile, but at a very basic level, established opposite parties will find it hard to convince that core base that they have anything to offer. To win, you need to bring everyone else together.


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