The electoral power of Bolsonarism

Clara Figueiredo, the false choice, digital photomontage, 2020


How someone who proudly displays all his taste for the abject can govern and expand his voter base

The results of the polls in the Brazilian elections of October 02, 2022 caused perplexity. In general terms, what caused the most consternation were the results favorable to Bolsonarism. Not that Bolsonarism was largely victorious in the elections from every angle in which its performance is evaluated. But there are some strategic dimensions and the main one is: it would be entirely reasonable to assume that the expression of Bolsonarism at the polls would be much smaller than it was. The first level of perplexity is, therefore, the realization that Bolsonarism is much larger in terms of electoral power than we expected.

Jair Bolsonaro himself, despite having been in second place and qualified to run in the second round, obtained a total number of votes higher than he had in the first round of the 2018 elections. : the economic and food catastrophe that put Brazil back on the hunger map with more than 30 million hungry people and more than half of the population with some level of food insecurity; the evocation of a broad authoritarian agenda, markedly the coup speech against the electoral process; the demonstration of inhumanity repeated countless times, by idolizing torturers and belittling the suffering of the nearly 700 thousand killed by covid-19; Brazil's international shame as a pariah from which all countries that are not run by far-right autocrats, dictators and monarchs want to get away from; the environmental disaster with levels of forest devastation breaking records and the public display of extractive and destructive banditry internationally exposed with the murder of Bruno Pereira and Dom Philips, in addition to several murders of indigenous leaders; the fundamentalist, lying and hallucinatory speeches he gave from the pulpit of the UN General Assembly, including the evocation of the fascist motto, which was also evoked by Salazarism, before the Portuguese António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations; the truculence with which he treats intellectuals and journalists, especially if they are women; the stunt with the completely ridiculous figure of a false priest in the last two televised debates before the first round; the revelations about the long history of a typical practice of criminal economic activities, the use of large amounts of cash in financial transactions, as a strong indication of the family tradition of parliamentary cracks in the Bolsonaro offices; constantly violate secularism; the repertoire of absurdities, iniquities and inhumanities is inexhaustible throughout his 32 years of public life, especially during the nearly four years of his presidency.

How can someone who proudly displays all his taste for the abject govern and expand his voter base? How can the disasters he provoked and flaunted in his speeches be converted into an increase in electoral adherence? Even more: how could he have become such an effective electoral force by electing such a large number of his most infamous ministers?

Elected, for example: Ricardo Salles, who planned the strategies for deregulation of environmental protection mechanisms, on the basis of “passing the cattle” in the shadows of public concern about the pandemic; Damares Alves, the one who harassed an eleven-year-old girl who was pregnant by her rapist in an attempt to curtail her right to a legal abortion; Marcos Pontes, the astronaut who dismantles science in Brazil and who, before becoming a minister, was a tourist attraction in Florida, like a theme park mascot;[I] Pazuello, the active general when he was minister of health and who was executing a health policy that resulted in almost 700 deaths in the pandemic; Hamilton Mourão, the vice-president who praises whenever he can the memory of one of the most persistent torturers of the military dictatorship; Tereza Cristina, the minister of agriculture during the period in which the advance of fires in the main Brazilian biomes expressed the desire to destroy agribusiness; to name just a few emblematic figures in the first echelon of the government of the worst of us. How is this electoral advance possible in the face of a government with such poor results and a deeply authoritarian ideological inclination with fascist contours?[ii] The visible radicals won.

Even more, as this expansion of votes for Jair Bolsonaro in the first round occurred in a scenario in which he greatly exceeded the percentage of voting intentions that had been indicated by the surveys of the main institutes specializing in electoral polls, reaching 43,2% of votes? The research institutes spent Monday, October 03, 2022, explaining this difference, in relation to the polls that always showed an oscillation of around 37%. Bolsonaro rushed to reaffirm what he had been saying throughout the campaign in the face of the unfavorable scenario in the polls: that the polls lack credibility. As is characteristic of authoritarian, obscurantist and denialist profiles, for Jair Bolsonaro, nothing that has to do with knowledge and science has value, just remember his contempt for scientific evidence in managing the pandemic.

The explanations presented by the research institutes, in short, indicate that what happened was a last-minute migration of votes from Ciro Gomes voters and undecided voters to Bolsonaro. This hypothesis is plausible, but for that to happen, practically all of the votes lost by Ciro Gomes and by the line of undecided voters in relation to what was being determined by the polls would have had to have migrated to Bolsonaro. Here we intend to point out some questions that contribute to the understanding of the Bolsonarism electoral result, adding some dimensions that need to be deepened for a diagnosis.

We use the term “understanding” specifically. We are facing a manifestation of fascism in the XNUMXst century. The rehabilitation of the integralist motto by Bolsonarism is not a mere symbolic approximation. Just as it was not a mere deviation that one of his government secretaries staged an imitation of Goebbels in an official speech, or that the president himself emulated a public aesthetic close to Mussolini's image, by adopting “motorcycles” as his main form of communication. campaign demonstration.

Neither is Jair Bolsonaro's proximity to a neo-Nazi who appeared in public spaces dressed in SS clothes, nor that he corresponded with members of a Brazilian neo-Nazi movement, or the reception of the German deputy Beatrix von Storch, one of the leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.[iii] Likewise, the political alignment with a candidate for the Senate from Rio de Janeiro is not marginal, the only one who in her campaign showed photos with the president and the first lady, who had chemical castration as a penal instrument as her main platform of campaign.

Jair Bolsonaro is the main representative of the extreme right fascist tendency in the American continent. And one of the characteristics of fascism is that it operates by constantly falsifying reality, in its strategies of propagating moral panic and spreading public fear of a non-existent threat. Perplexity is one of the products of fascism and, therefore, Hannah Arendt was largely concerned with the theme of understanding. She wrote, for example: “The conviction that everything that happens in the world must be understandable can lead us to interpret history through commonplaces. Understanding does not mean denying what is shocking in facts, eliminating the unprecedented from them, or, when explaining phenomena, using analogies and generalities that lessen the impact of reality and the shock of experience. It means, first of all, to examine and consciously bear the burden that our century has noblely placed on us – without denying its existence, nor humbly bowing to its weight. To understand means, in short, to face reality without prejudice and with attention, and to resist it – whatever it may be”.[iv]

The first issue that we must bear on the tumultuous political course of Bolsonarism is that it obtained an electoral result that was not captured by the polls of voting intentions. And this, obviously, does not mean that the polls were wrong, given that electoral polls are not predictive and should not be analyzed in terms of their success rate, but for their methodological rigor and indication of electoral trends, which, by definition, may or may not be confirmed at the polls. One issue that we consider important to keep in mind in this regard is that there is an electoral phenomenon, for example, in Rio de Janeiro that was not likely to be captured by the instruments of electoral polls.

In this regard, we believe it is fundamental to try to determine the extent to which some dimensions of local policies may have interfered in this electoral result not mapped by polling intentions. In this sense, it seems important to us to consider, for example, the possibility that specific local articulations between economic power, religious power, power to kill and political power may have some level of interference in the disparity between voting intentions and the votes deposited in the ballot boxes. .

It is plausible to consider that contexts in which the right to freely exercise the vote is violated, there are disparities between voting intentions and votes actually cast. Embarrassment by religious leaders to their followers, abuses of economic power, with employers exercising coercion over employees, territorial control armed by groups that interfere in the daily life of politics can be factors that distort electoral results.

In Rio de Janeiro, for example, as shown in the Map of Armed Groups,[v] militia groups control 256 km² of the 7535 km² of territory in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, occupying more than half of the areas controlled by armed groups in the region, controlling an area where around 4,4 million people live. Due to the very characteristic of militia power, which seeks to articulate the power to kill and political power, it is necessary to take into account that there are great possibilities that in these areas the right to vote is not exercised freely. Mandonism and clientelism (in its armed form, what we call "homicidal clientelism"[vi]) are not residual phenomena in these militia-controlled regions.

It is necessary to consider in this regard that Bolsonarism itself brings together in its ideological broth a combination of the power to kill, religious fundamentalism and the abuse of economic power, always seeking rapprochement with sectors of a criminal-evader-business community. And this is reflected in the electoral map of Bolsonarism in the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro. In the West Zone[vii], region of the city of Rio that is the birthplace of the militias, Jair Bolsonaro only lost in one polling station.

In all municipalities in Baixada Fluminense, a region where a politician was murdered every 45 days between January 2021 and June 2022, most of them in areas controlled by militias,[viii] and where clientelism and the power to kill are widely combined, Bolsonaro was victorious, by a wide margin, in all municipalities.[ix] It is necessary that studies on the electoral result of the first round of 2022 take into account the potential of Bolsonarist ways of exercising power in violating the right to vote. In this sense, qualitative studies need to investigate the pressures of religious leaders, businessmen and armed groups aligned with Bolsonarism on voting, mainly in areas controlled by armed groups in metropolitan regions and in the interior municipalities in which there may be clientelistic and bossy processes. ongoing.

We are not arguing that this is an explanatory dimension of the incidence of the Bolsonarist vote in Rio de Janeiro, but that it is a dimension that needs to be taken into account in more refined diagnoses of electoral behavior in contexts in which there is a convergence of factors that may imply the abuse of economic and religious power, as well as the pressure of the armed power on the vote. Political violence, as we study it in our research,[X] it can define not only coercion over and elimination of candidates, but also interference in the exercise of the right to vote. In this way, political violence and electoral crime may be related.

In the face of these considerations, another issue that we need to endure and resist, regardless of the explanations about the differences between the ballot boxes and the electoral polls, is that Bolsonarism, in these last almost four years, has gone from a reactive and conjunctural phenomenon to a political movement structured, with access to broad and effective means of power and with great ideological capillarity. The worst data from this first round of elections is the size of the extreme right. How much they have the power of the machine and managed to advance this round, even with all the atrocities committed in broad daylight.

What this advance means in terms of naturalizing and internalizing what is worst in us is something that we have yet to see the consequences of. It is no longer just one of a conservative, prejudiced and violent society. It is a strongly fundamentalist society with a strong adherence to a broadly fascist ideological language in its horizons of power.

The blow stems from the expectation that, in the face of all the horror promoted in the last four years, Bolsonarism would retreat, that it was something restricted to a fundamentalist niche. But that is not what the elections showed. Bolsonarism is nourished by its obscene barbarity. The more he exhibits his inhumanity, the more he naturalizes it, the more he makes it penetrate everyday life. It is a phenomenon of hyperexposure.

The problem is Jair Bolsonaro, but it is also the neighbor next door, the guy who sits next to you on the bus, the doctor who attends to you at the health center, the patient who enters your office.

In this scenario, where the metric changed, where the gravitational center settled on the right, we moved from the center to the right, as an average, and the extreme right became an acceptable space for expressing votes, without strangeness. And it was in the Senate, not in the Chamber, where Bolsonarism made a difference.

There is still time for the second round, and in this space-time, anything can happen. But despite the perplexity, there are also several deceptions in the middle of the process. If Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was a candidate for president, it was due to massive popular pressure against his unjust and arbitrary imprisonment. Emphasizing the importance of demonstrations and popular strength. Even with his freedom and, with 26 lawsuits with resolutions in his favor, anti-PTism and Lava Jatismo still breathe. And even so, the Workers' Party managed to reverse an extremely adverse scenario of recent years, increasing its bench and presence in every corner of the country.

Brazil is in a process of contradictions and simultaneous events of change. The international scenario is neither easy nor stable, and even less understands how a figure like Jair Bolsonaro has votes, as widely manifested by the foreign media. And, at the domestic level, the social and economic tragedy of the Bolsonaro government is on every street corner.

Despite the difficulty of the media and society to qualify Jair Bolsonaro as a fascist, in the second round the fight that arises is the fight for democracy and social justice, against fascism. Every support from parties, movements and forces counts, and a lot. And the action of each one of us makes the difference. Life is struggle.

*Andres Del Rio is professor of political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

* André Rodrigues is professor of political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).



[I] VIEW The website of a tourism agency that bears his name and promotes tours with themes related to the Brazilian astronaut is still active:

[ii] See, for example, RODRIGUES, André. “Characteristics of Fascism”. In. RODRIGUES, André; DEL RÍO, Andrés; MONTEIRO, Licio; MARTON, Silmara. Formative texts from the margins: periphery, territory and interdisciplinarity. São Paulo: Editora Paco, 2022.

[iii] In addition to being the granddaughter of a former German finance minister during the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. LINK:

[iv]  ARENDT, Hannah. Origins of totalitarianism: antisemitism, imprerialism, totalitarianism. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2012, p. 12.

[v] See

[vi]See RODRIGUES, André et al. Homicides in Baixada Fluminense: State, market, criminality and power. Rio de Janeiro: ISER, 2018.

[vii] See

[viii] See RODRIGUES, André et al. Political violence in Baixada Fluminense and Ilha Grande Bay. Rio de Janeiro: Favela Observatory, 2022.

[ix] Ver

[X] See RODRIGUES, André et al. Political violence in Baixada Fluminense and Ilha Grande Bay. Rio de Janeiro: Favela Observatory, 2022.

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