The invasion of powers in Brasilia

Image: Inga Seliverstova


How big is the coup movement? What does the first opinion poll say?

Immediately after the coup invasions by the three powers that took place on January 08, 2023, the Atlas group carried out a public opinion survey.[I] Although in the heat of events, the data are relevant to assess the political context and prospect possible scenarios for the country's reconstruction and the resumption of democracy. It is important to point out that access to the database would give us better conditions to carry out the necessary statistical tests, especially to relate social profiles and attitudes related to these facts.

Despite these limitations, some interpretations of the data are offered in this text to help analyze events and prospect the immediate future. It remains to be said that after the present analysis, a new survey was released by DataFolha, carried out on January 10 and 11, two days after the events in Brasília, bringing divergent questions and numbers. We will not stop at this point in the analysis and possible comparison of the two surveys.[ii]

It is necessary to separate the Atlas research data into two blocks: those concerning the invasion of the three powers; and those measuring issues related to elections and democracy.

The vast majority of voters disagree with the invasion (76%). Another 18% agree. In addition, the intervention measures of the Lula government and the STF after the invasion are supported by a large majority, around 70%. The rejection of acts of vandalism shows that, even among Bolsonaro voters, the invasion and attempted coup were not accepted by a majority percentage of those who gave their opinion (48,6%). At the same time, support for vandalism and coup violence is still high among these voters, almost 40%. In absolute numbers, it would be 20,4 million people.[iii]. This is consistent with the policy of denying the election results and the broad mobilization of Bolsonarism in recent months after the presidential elections.

The survey raises questions, however, that make a more detailed interpretation of real support for the invasion difficult. This is evident in the answers given to the justification of the acts. The percentage obtained by the idea that the invasion was “totally unjustified” is small, 53%. It corresponds more or less to the electoral support of the opposition that defeated the former president and voted for Lula in the 2nd round. The sum of those who think it was “in part justified” (27,5%) and “fully justified” (10,5%) reaches 38% of respondents. It's a high percentage.

Our hypothesis is that this question allows the respondents to relativize the invasions, but its diffuse character does not allow to capture the subjective sense of the reasons for the justifications of the invasions. It should be noted that among Bolsonaro voters, the highest percentage is that of those who think that the act can be “in part justified” (56,5%). This public is probably the one that voted for the former president, but condemned the invasions. That is, it does not add to violent acts and/or scammers, according to the responses of agreement or not with the invasions mentioned above. The hard core of Bolsonarism is what finds the act “fully justified”, by 20,5%. It corresponds more or less to the group that agreed with the invasions (18%).

These data are very relevant to indicate the potential for separation between the extreme right and conservative right sectors. The more the fascist core adopts radicalized strategies, the greater the possibilities for this sector to be isolated in society and in the opposition to the Lula government. It is of great interest that the extreme right stop dominating the right in the country.

On the other hand, the possible accountability of Jair Bolsonaro for the acts is restricted to the percentage of those who are already against him (50,1%), not indicating guilt on the part of his voters who largely believe that he is not responsible for the invasion ( 90%).

However, the act of invasion was not positive for Bolsonarism in public opinion, which isolated itself from the majority, not only from the Lulist electorate but also from the majority of Bolsonarista electorate. This is very positive data for the ongoing political dispute because the power of the Bolsonarist movement after the elections has diminished. The serious facts – which did not result in a continued occupation by the three powers with an unpredictable outcome to resolve the coup impasse because the number of people participating in the invasions was lower than expected by them – need to be remembered ad nauseam by the country's democratic field, in order to create an identifying stain of the far-right Bolsonarist movement.

The other data brought by the survey on questions related to democracy and elections are very worrying. They reveal that Bolsonarism gained broad support for its electoral fraud narrative: 40% think that Lula did not win more votes in the elections. Only 56,4% of respondents think that Lula won more votes, slightly more than Lula received in the elections. Among Jair Bolsonaro voters, this percentage reaches 90%. This false narrative is the great motto that animates and justifies the mobilization of Bolsonaristas.

In addition, there is a large public in favor of a military intervention to invalidate the electoral result (36,8%). Those who are against the intervention only slightly exceed the percentage obtained by Lula in the elections (54%). And among Jair Bolsonaro voters, there are an incredible 81%. In absolute terms, there would be around 41,3 million citizens in favor of military intervention.[iv] Only 11,5% are declared against a post-election military intervention. The data show the effectiveness of the narrative against electronic ballot boxes and post-elections, which deposits in the armed forces the expectation of reversing the situation. There is no doubt about the broad social base that would exist if conditions were available for this intervention.

As for the positions on a possible military dictatorship, it seems that the respondents separate it (naively) from “military intervention to invalidate the elections”, because only 9% say they are in favor of a dictatorship and another 73,5% are against it. Even among Bolsonaristas, support for a dictatorship is not a majority, they are around 20% and half are against: 51,1%. About 30% said they didn't know or didn't want to answer. The anti-democratic tendency among Jair Bolsonaro's voters is evident, compared to the other candidates who ran in the presidential elections, but it is also possible to perceive that half of those who voted for him would not be in the classic authoritarian spectrum, but possibly identified with the values ​​and attitudes of liberal-conservative right that grew a lot from 2016 and the Bolsonaro government (anti-petistas, lavajatistas, evangelicals etc).

These data show a country that is still polarized, with a large percentage thinking that the elections were not legitimate, and that the hope of a way out is in the armed forces. This means that they will continue to act mainly through social networks and the public mandates of extremists received in large measure in the last elections of 2022.

Although the percentages on appreciation for democracy show some continuity with other polls (around 75% support), it is clear why the military enjoys prestige and has benefited from post-election camps and public appeals for its intervention in political life , at least since 2016. As we know, the power of the military is an anti-democratic legacy of “amnesty” in the negotiated transition to redemocratization.

In summary, the data show that the invasion was not a good strategy for Bolsonaristas. The vast majority of public opinion rejected it, including the percentage majority of Jair Bolsonaro's voters. They went for all or nothing and provided good elements for the Lula government and the progressive forces to move from resistance to the offensive aimed at isolating the most radicalized and extreme right group. A great opportunity was created to justify the fight by all legal means in repression and legal and political accountability for anti-democratic actions. The hard core of Bolsonarism was naked and needs to be shown for what it is: a terrorist group, coup plotter and society destroyer.

The meeting with governors, including Bolsonaristas, was proof of the success of the strategy of provoking the position of elected representatives and institutions, facing the meaning of the invasion, in order to isolate the most radical sectors of Bolsonaristas. The initial measures of the STF were also important messages, including for the states that were lenient with the coup leaders. It must continue with the penalization of the economic sectors, the agro and the politicians who finance and animate the extreme right. Certainly these and other economic sectors, if they can, will boycott the Lula government.

The invasion provided the password for the justification of the state offensive that is necessary with a heavy hand. This coercive path of the State was opened and must be strengthened, now taking advantage of the emptiness of the discourse that was already beginning to grow on the possible post-Bolsonaro “revanchism”, including in corporate media. Culpability and exemplary punishment are fundamental in this sense to guarantee the democratic rule of law.

At the same time, the issues related to the dispute for hegemony, to the social consensus in society constitute the great challenge, perhaps the most difficult because we are facing new communicative phenomena and an opposition that was victorious in the creation of narratives that today are almost insurmountable to rationality. it is the truth. Thus, the most difficult will be the dispute in the social base hegemonized by the coup narrative and the fake news widely used in social networks and in the forms of social articulation with the legislative and government segments that they dominate after the October elections, which are not few.

To a large extent, this dispute will have to be carried out by the public policies of the Lula government. The government has to succeed, with economic growth and social inclusion, with results for the popular and middle classes, in well-being policies in the various areas and segments. Recession and economic failure will be a catastrophe in the face of lurking alternative sectors to the Lula government, which could gain new impetus in a short time.

But it would be a mistake to think that only material issues will be enough to undermine the value bases that animate the extreme right. The cultural and organizational battle at the bases and institutions is increasingly important for the dispute between country and society projects. This will require a communication policy far beyond the traditional means available to governments. It will also be essential to develop a popular education policy as part of the Lula government's redistributive and welfare policies. Or, as Friar Beto says, developing the “inductive” forces that move ordinary people. At the same time, actors from the democratic and popular field who work in civil society are challenged to evolve a lot in their communication strategies and mass formation, overcoming the spontaneity, amateurism and backwardness that are still strongly present. In the contemporary world there is no social movement and dispute for hegemony without mass communication policy, especially in social networks and uses of ICTs.

Gaining the support of the popular classes in the face of conservative and neoliberal projects will be decisive in facing the threats that will not cease. When Bolsonarism is isolated and restricted to the percentages of support that the extreme right has historically had in Brazil (at least since redemocratization), we can say that a great battle has been won, always provisionally, of course, because this war will be long, arduous, complex and difficult.

*Luciano Fedozzi Professor of Sociology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).


[I] ATLASINTEL. Brazilian adult population, sample of 2.200 respondents. Collection methodology: Random digital recruitment (Atlas RDR), Margin of error ±2,0p.p., Confidence level for estimating the margin of error 95%. Collection period 08/01/2023 - 09/01/2023

[ii] It should only be noted that the percentages of rejection and disagreement with the invasions are 93% for DataFolha, well above the figures of the Atlas survey (76%). In addition to different methodologies, a hypothesis for such a discrepancy in the percentage is that the DataFolha survey was carried out after extensive critical information for two days in the hegemonic corporate media, especially Globo and Bandeirantes.

[iii] 40% of 51.072.345 voters who voted for Bolsonaro in the 1st Shift cf. TSE

[iv] 81% of the 51.072.345 voters who voted for Bolsonaro in the 1st round.

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