The presidential campaign agenda

Image: Ali Yılmaz


This year the left has a much better scenario than in 2018

This Tuesday (16/8), the electoral process officially began in which Brazilians will go to the polls to choose state deputies, governors, federal deputies, senators and the president of the Republic. Undoubtedly, the last of the positions mentioned in the previous sentence is the most coveted and that arouses the greatest interest in voters. Generally, the presidential campaign is characterized by a certain agenda, which will indicate what will be debated by the main candidates and, ultimately, can define the voters' votes.

In elections marked by PT/PSDB polarization, especially after the two Lula governments (2003-2010), the agenda revolved around the greater or lesser role of the State. At the time, talking about reducing social policies or the provision of public services was almost “political suicide”. Thus, toucan candidates did their best to hide the privatizations of the ill-fated FHC period (1995-2002).

In a tricky way, PSDB campaign teams even tried to divert the focus from economic guidelines (linked to people's material needs) to moral guidelines – such as, for example, associating the PT with abortion. However, the voter really wanted to know about the cost of living, whether he would have a job, food on the table or access to public services. Not by chance, the PT only left the federal government in 2016 through the coup d'état, because, while the agendas linked to people's material needs dominated political debates, it would be difficult for the right (with its neoliberal project of scorched earth) to return to power through the electoral.

In the atypical 2018 presidential election – in a post-coup scenario and with the (alleged) anti-corruption campaign of Operation Lava Jato at its peak – economic agendas gave way to customs agendas (a fertile ground for the political aspirations of the then rightmost ascending). Thus, instead of debating proposals for historical demands of the Brazilian people – such as employment, income, health and education – moral and ethical issues were discussed. fake news, such as the so-called “gay kit” (allegedly didactic material proposed by the PT to “teach homosexuality” to Brazilian students).

Evidently, it would be reductionist to credit Jair Bolsonaro's electoral success to the fake news, given that the main reason for this was the impediment of Lula's candidacy, the population's favorite. However, it is undeniable that directing the public debate to the agenda of customs, in a religious, conservative and moralist country like Brazil, was fundamental for the extreme right to come to power.

In addition, it is important to emphasize that unsuccessful actions by the left – such as the “Ele não” movement (organized by women against the misogynistic candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro) – although apparently well-intentioned, functioned as a kind of Trojan Horse, as they gave even more "Arguments" for fake news of the extreme right and its intentions to scare the “good citizen” by associating the then leftist ticket (Fernando Haddad/Manuela d'Ávila) with promiscuous behavior, which confronts the moral values ​​of the traditional Brazilian family. Also at that time, with the success of the project to demonize the State driven by the hegemonic media, it was possible to make the (unpopular) neoliberal agenda sound positively (which was translated into the nefarious slogan: “liberal in economy, conservative in customs ”).

That said, a question becomes inevitable: will the customs agenda also set the tone for the current presidential campaign? Although we are still at the beginning of this journey, I believe that the answer to this important question is no. For two reasons.

The first reason is related to the country's economic situation. If the living conditions of the majority of the population were already bad in the last electoral process (under the interim government of Michel Temer), they got even worse in the obscure Bolsonar years. With a disastrous management in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, Brazil returns to the map of hunger, inflation and rising unemployment, it is difficult, even for the greatest moralist, not to think about economic issues. As much as the extreme right tries to associate Lula with “dark religious beliefs” or spreads fake news saying that the PT will teach the population how to use crack, the people want to know if they will be able to eat meat or if they will have a job and income.

Unlike 2018, when a large part of the electorate did not understand that Jair Bolsonaro, through his “Posto Ipiranga” and guarantor Paulo Guedes, was the continuation of Michel Temer’s neoliberal policy, today it is impossible to disassociate the president from the economic chaos we are experiencing. Therefore, moral issues tend to have less weight in the average voter's vote.

The second reason why economic agendas overlap behavioral agendas is related to the characteristics of the main leftist candidacy. Unlike Fernando Haddad and Manuela d'Ávila – typical elements of the middle class – Lula comes from a poor background. He knows the real demands of the people.

As we know, the presence of Manuela d'Ávila as deputy led the PT ticket to emphasize abstract and identity themes, such as female empowerment, a place to speak and non-binary language. This type of discourse (which often flirts with “progressive neoliberalism”) has a lot of adherence in certain university niches, which live in academic bubbles, alienated from social reality. However, it does not dialogue with the bulk of the population, which, by force of circumstances, is interested in concrete solutions to their problems. Not by chance, this petty-bourgeois left, with its hermetic language, has contributed substantially to throwing the poor population into the arms of the extreme right.

On the other hand, Lula, as said, knows the popular language. With her football metaphors or those related to everyday life, she translates complex political issues to the common people. In her speeches, she focuses on what really matters to workers: improving their concrete living conditions. Being an experienced candidate, with five elections under his belt, the ex-president is unlikely to fall into the discursive traps of the extreme right so that he adopts certain positions that take away votes from the more conservative voter.

In short, at least from an electoral point of view, this year the left has a much more auspicious scenario than in 2018 (including corroborated by polls of voting intentions). Whether or not he will win the presidential election (and I hope he does) is another question.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral candidate in geography at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (Ed. CRV).


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