Cartography of the elections

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Study to 'Return to the Trenches', 1914-15


The supposed geography of the vote is one of the central elements in the reactivation of the so-called political clashes, with a strong power to remove all the complexity of Brazil

The first round of elections took place on September 30. As soon as the result came out – which confirmed Lula's victory (48,12%) over Jair Bolsonaro (43,47%) – a debate began about which part of the country embodies the highest and lowest values ​​in Brazil. Spaces for xenophobia directed both to the North/Northeast and to the South/Southeast or even to the central region of the country marked a strong presence in the public debate. Depending on which part of the political spectrum one speaks of, a certain portion becomes the rotten band of the nation, the civilized or barbarian, backward or progressive, national or foreign, socialist or fascist, savior or executioner.

This way of debating electoral results reactivates old social disputes of geographic expression that permeated the Brazilian formation: regionalisms from different quadrants of the territory. In this sense, wrote a voter of Jair Bolsonaro: “I have never been to the Northeast and now I know I will never go. Too much beach is bad for neurons and turns people into nerds. It does not give. I'm tired. If they opt for delay and trickery, let them stay there, immersed in their atavistic backwardness. They mess up the country. It is not easy to admit that it is ignorance that defines the destiny of a country that is in a hurry to grow, blocking its progress towards economic and social success”.

A supporter of the current president still adds in another post: “The Northeast has to explain why, being the poorest region in the country, it decided to elect alone the one that always kept it captive, throwing only misleading crumbs. (...) The Northeast, at this moment, with due reverence, is the great national shame”. Another supporter expressed in a short video: “These people from Bahia who vote for Lula and then come here to our city to ask for a job, that you close the doors of your companies, because what you have most is a portfolio that we sign at companies Of those wretched northeasterners who starve there and come here to sell hammocks on the beach, I asked for a mason's servant, for a job and to sleep in front of our establishments. So, if they chose Lula, let them stay there in their state, voting for Lula and eating their family allowance. As an accountant, am I going to require the entrepreneur to pay tax if the money is stolen?”

Also noteworthy, in this context, is what commentator Rodrigo Constantino did. He posted the following opinion on one of his social networks: “We have a clear conclusion in these elections: the part of the country that receives the most assistance decides on the part of the country that produces the most for the GDP”. Underpinning this opinion, a map of the Brazilian space sectioned into two parts, a red Northeast identified by the toponymy Cuba do Sul opposed to a remainder of the national territory beige and identified with toponym Brazil.

Positions with opposing arguments are easy to find. One of them, in a separatist, beachy and culinary tone, says: “You can divide Brazil, I'm already on the right side. Here there is no shortage of forró, couscous, sun-dried meat, pamonha, the beach and good, no-frills people”. Another, placing educational and historical elements that mark the origin of the country, writes: “Northeast. Brazilian region where, not by chance, students win Physics, Mathematics, History, Astronomy Olympics. Proud to be Northeastern! This is where the greatest talents in all areas of this country came from. And this is where it all began more than 500 years ago!”

Along the same lines, an important PT intellectual writes, or rather replies: “Only 10 students, in the whole of Brazil, scored 1000 on the ENEM essay. 7 are from the Northeast”. In a more serious tone, another defender of the region points out: “Not even Noé carried as many animals as the Northeast carries Brazil”. For this battle, even Hollywood actors were recruited. The photo from the 2022 Oscar ceremony, in which Will Smith slaps Chris Rock, was appropriate to represent – ​​from the identification of the actors by names of regions – the Northeast beating the South. Finally, an important left-wing philosopher, analyzing the election results (Vladimir Safatle and the reorganization of the left in the second round/ Contragolpe interview, canal The Intercept Brazil), despite making a speech with interesting nuances, does not fail to highlight: “the Northeast saved”.

These games of attacks and counter-attacks, blows and counter-attacks, praise or disgrace (whether by anonymous figures, by public figures, whether by people with a high level of schooling, by people with a low level of schooling) denote, among other things, how old pendengas are once again dressed in new guises and, moreover, reveal the power of romanticizations over themselves and over others.

In this context, the geography of the vote, or rather, the supposed geography of the vote, is one of the central elements in reactivating the so-called clashes, whose maps – depending on which part of the political spectrum one is talking about – irrefutably show the healthy or sick region from the country. The discourses raised here hardly move outside the cartographic imagery of the elections.

Very symptomatic of this was the live “Elections of 2022: the two Brazils”, from the channel Official Creative Education, on the YouTube platform, in which three lecturers seek to debate politically and geographically the results of the election. Explanations whose central lines are reproduced below. The first debater begins by explaining that there are two Brazils: that of civilization and that of barbarism. The second reinforces the argument of the first by exposing a map that expresses, by simple majority and by state cutouts, the results of the first round, identifying, in red, the states where Lula won and, in blue, where Bolsonaro won.

And, based on the cartographic piece, he points out that “the geography of the vote (…) explains the Brazilian reality” since “The Northeast is Brazil (…) São Paulo is a totally cosmopolitan city and so is Rio de Janeiro, not just no wonder that the Northeast means the great resistance of its regional culture, of the Brazilianness (...)” whose revelation is announced in the geography of the vote and later in the attacks of xenophobia that the region suffers on behalf of other parts of the country. Then, the first presenter intervenes again: “Brazil is restricted to the North and Northeast, mainly to these two regions, the rest is in the territory, but it does not belong to the territory, the rest has no cultural identity. The Brazilian cultural identity is in the Northeast”.

The first exhibitor adds: “The Northeast, (…) most of the North (…) came back with Lula because (…) this is Brazil, this is, in fact, Brazil, this is Brazil with a Brazilian touch. And culture is a reflection of Brazil (…)”. The third exponent does not escape the tonic previously defended. In this sense, he begins by emphasizing: “The Northeast is committed to Brazil. He proved it, it's geographical, it's historical”. And then points out: “what (…) was presented in facts (…) is science (…) exact, because (…) [it was] presented a map [that] reflects well what it is to be Brazilian or not”. He also says: the map “makes you realize that some people are in Brazil only for their own interests, they are not Brazilians. The Northeast proved us”.

Following the presentation, the third exhibitor brings up the candidacy of Ciro Gomes, not putting on the table that – as incredible as it may seem – the defeated candidate from Ceará is from the Northeast, but only a Brazilian and, of course, not truly Brazilian. The exhibitor is not credited with the fact that Ciro Gomes was born in Pindamonhangaba, São Paulo, since his parents are from Ceará and at the age of five he just moved to Sobral, Ceará, where he grew up, graduated and started his political career and, in addition to moreover, Ciro Gomes himself claims to be from the Northeast. As can be seen, the expositor's argumentative course when prowling around the fact of Ciro Gomes' regional identity is to sacrifice it in favor of the truth of the map. Indeed, this is the substance of the whole argument. live: restrict the truth of Brazilian identity to the geography of voting for Lula. Cartography, in this sense, is the purest expression of the truth of what is said. It is the concrete ground of reality, or if you like, of discourse.

The problem with this type of truth anchored in cartography is that maps are a kind of representation of reality and not reality itself. In the game of political clashes and beyond these clashes, cartography can play a rhetorical role, that is, maps can be vehicles of lies, mistakes, mythologies, conscious and unconscious errors.

Thus, the maps published in the press in the first hours and days after the election results, by dividing the country into two parts, a red north (North, Northeast, plus Minas Gerais and Tocantins) opposed to a blue south (South, Southeast and Midwest) or any other color, in addition to pointing to a cartographic ground of the discourses analyzed above, do not hold. First, what is being expressed is a demographic variable (vote) in a territorial metric (spatial area of ​​states or regions). Which generates enormous distortions: to focus on the extremes of the country, the giant red territorial states of Amazonas and Pará, where Lula won, are only, respectively, the 19th and 10th electoral colleges in the ranking of the number of voters; in contrast, the tiny Rio Grande do Sul, where Jair Bolsonaro predominated, is the 5th electoral college.

Furthermore, the sum of voters from the two northern states does not reach the number of voters from the southern state. Second, to complicate the analysis, in Manaus, capital of the red Amazon, the largest metropolis in the North and the 8th electoral college (in municipal terms), Jair Bolsonaro predominated. Just as it also predominated in Rio Grande do Sul, as seen, but with a difference of less than 8% for Lula. In Maceió, capital of Vermelho Alagoas, Lula's opponent became champion, despite being defeated in the state, whose location is in the Nordeste region.

Similar dynamics, which cannot be captured by the very bicolor of cartography expressing the winners by simple majority in spatial areas, took place in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In São Paulo, the largest electoral college in the country, Jair Bolsonaro won, but with little difference in relation to Lula. The same happened in Rio de Janeiro, the state that concentrates the second largest number of voters in the country.

In order to consolidate the set of focused distortions, in the first case, the demographic variable (number of people, individuals, voters) is undersized or oversized to the detriment of the territorial variable; in the second case, by representing the winner by simple majority in the spatial clippings, one ends up hiding the loser's votes in the spatial clippings of the winner.

In conclusion, if maps are the cartographic ground of discourses, as defended, what is in circulation, in addition to maps and discourses, are geographic ideologies with a strong power to remove all the complexity of the country by reducing Brazil to fascist regions and socialist, Brazilian and non-Brazilian, human and non-human, civilized and barbarian; hiding more than revealing the electoral disputes in the territory. In this context, if one wants to scratch the complexity of the hardships that plague the country, it is necessary to propose more sophisticated readings, including cartographic ones.

Unless you settle for a crude cartography that, at best, has the power to generate, on the right, supporters of the old geographical determinisms and, on the left, romanticizers or self-exiles in Europe (from where some write letters/books from Paris) but without being able to understand the problems that affect Brazil.

* Erivaldo Costa de Oliveira is a professor of geography at UESPI.

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