the quantum vote


Bolsonaro’s election marked a turning point in the communicational paradigm of the electoral campaign. The usual channels were replaced by strategies such as the use of Facebook, the fakenews plant on WhatsApp and the use of the communicational power of evangelical churches

By João Feres Júnior*

Continuing the article “In search of the lost center” (, I will now analyze the real possibilities of recomposing the center through the action of current political forces. To get to the heart of the matter, we must first try to understand what is happening at the most capillary phenomenological level of public opinion.

My aim is to illustrate what I called the transformation of the ideological field of the electorate from a dromedary hump shape to a camel hump shape – pardon my zoological precision: __/\__ into _/\___/\_. I will not reproduce graphics here so as not to make the reading discontinuous.

In fact, the zoological metaphor purely reflects the shape of the curve. When we look at it from the perspective of political dynamics, it is better to replace it with a metaphor that comes from particle physics: the quantum state. It provides heuristic advantages over the previous one.

The figure of the double hump is indeed an exaggeration. It may give the impression that we have two radicalized camps in opposition, an argument trumpeted by the editorials of the major Brazilian newspapers throughout the second round. According to them, the election of Bolsonaro or Haddad (with the return of the PT to power) represented risks equivalent to democracy. This far-reaching mystification does not withstand two lines of sober analysis, but it has nevertheless been repeated. ad nauseam by these “great defenders of freedom of the press”.

The fact is that, in the electoral context, apart from the blank and null votes, Haddad’s voters were distributed from the extreme left to the center, that is, the candidate captured a large part of the votes of those who considered Bolsonaro’s crypto-fascist “project” intolerable . Bolsonaro voters, despite not being considered genetically reactionary, preferred to elect such a project rather than see the PT return to the presidency, that is, they made a very extreme option to the right. In short, there is indeed a gap in the center, but it exists largely because the option on the right has shifted from PSDB-DEM to Bolsonarism. PT stayed practically in the same place.

Hence the metaphor of the quantum vote, because instead of a continuous space along which the voters' preferences are distributed, we have two very distinct states – like the energy layers of electrons in an electrosphere – and a voter who comes out of one enters the other by taking an ideological leap.

I used the term vote here, but the metaphor also applies to periods when there is no electoral campaign, because, as we see on a daily basis, the strategy that animates the Bolsonarist camp – probably following the example of what Donald Trump does in the USA – is to continue, even after his victory at the polls, to the ideological clash in the most sordid way, instead of replacing it with the logic of conciliation – which was common practice in the times when the late coalition presidentialism prevailed in our country.

When talking about elections, I commit here the enormous imprudence of risking analysis of an event that is still so far away on the calendar. But such an analysis can be applied to the current moment, given that we never leave the electoral logic.

How, then, did such a large contingent of people make such an option for the extreme right-wing project? Certainly the decades of criminalization of representative politics contributed to this shift to the right. This smear campaign ended up hitting the PSDB and other “traditional” parties more than the PT. In any case, the political forces that are now engaged in rebuilding the center have to pragmatically accept that the damage has already been done.

The question then must be reformulated for those who aim to rebuild the center: how to get voters out of this quantum configuration? I will try to answer this from a center-right and center-left perspective.

Candidates like Luciano Huck, João Dória, Arminio Fraga, or anyone else who represents the center-right, will have the challenge of succeeding where Alckmin failed: the task of reducing the extreme right to its most radical margin, robbing it of supporters. moderate conservatives, while catalyzing a large slice of the anti-PT center. But that's not all. To be victorious, such a center-right candidacy would have to have a good share of votes from the center-left.

Its only chance of that happening would be to make it to the second round against Bolsonaro, as then center-left voters would be forced en masse to avoid the “greater evil”. If Bolsonaro maintains his support base, such a task will be extremely difficult, as there will certainly be viable center-left candidates in the first round dispute. The center-right is squeezed, unable to climb the slopes of the quantum ditch into which it has plunged itself and the entire country, either on one side or the other.

The center-left, however, has a very different challenge ahead: attracting voters from the other side of the divide. As it encompasses virtually all forces on its left, its task is to win over adherents from the other camp. There is a positive element here, as anti-PTism, which was very effective in stealing votes from the PT in the past election, is a moral-cognitive wound that does not fit perfectly into the physical metaphor of polarization. During the election he was exploited by virtually all candidates, except Haddad, of course. And even within the PT there are those who flirt with such an “ideology”.

Despite the continuity of the electoral climate, the passage of time, the repeated gaffes and confusion engendered by Bolsonaro et caterva, and the confusion with which the mainstream media covers the government – ​​now supporting, now execrating its actions – may have a deleterious effect on the high level of ideologization in which several of our fellow citizens got involved, thus contributing to deflate anti-PTism.

In addition to this speculation with a bit of wishfulthinking For my part, let's return to the center-left's great challenge, which is to conquer or reconquer supporters of the other camp. This challenge is of a communicational nature.

As I have already discussed in greater detail elsewhere, Bolsonaro's election marked a turning point in the communicational paradigm of the electoral campaign. The usual channels of communication with the electorate (party structure to campaign directly, time on the Electoral Propaganda Free Time and support from the mainstream media) foundered in the face of the long-term strategy of building Bolsonaro's candidacy on Facebook, the fakenews that installed itself in WhatsApp – apparently through the illegal financing of the practice of firehosing –, and the communicational power of evangelical churches.

But this was not just a change in the way of campaigning. The biggest problem for the center-left is the changing nature of communication itself. Until the penultimate election, political forces gave enormous importance to the deliberative aspect of political discussion, that is, to the idea that the decision to vote, or even ideological adherence, took place through the rational conviction of the individual.

Of course, any marketer knows that the emotional aspect has always been very important in winning over voters. But he was always accessory to good arguments. even the huge ones fakenews produced by the mainstream media over the years – the kidnapping of Abílio Diniz, fake scandals, paper balls, etc. – also played an ancillary role in the centre-right campaign efforts. The central role of the good argument was reflected in the importance of debates, solemnly despised by Bolsonaro in 2018. In a sense, the existence of the political center was based on this deliberative nature of the communicational process of the election.

Of course, the centre-right's adherence to this deliberative model was partly historical – many of its members migrated from more left-wing positions – and partly instrumental. The left, on the other hand, is impregnated, even if sometimes unconsciously, by a deliberative conception of democracy, according to which people are taken as endowed with autonomy to make rational decisions based on the information they receive. Of course, propaganda always exaggerates or embellishes, but outright lying and pure manipulation do not seem to me to be part of the repertoire of center-left political communication.

Most of the PT's 2018 electoral propaganda was based on the idea that it was enough to show who Haddad is, what he did at the Ministry of Education and at the City Hall of São Paulo, to convince voters of his superiority when compared to his opponents.

If the above analysis is correct, then there is little hope of recomposing a political center, as the communicational conditions for its existence no longer exist. We would need to revert the technological transformation of the means of communication or for some as yet unimagined change to place political communication on other bases.

If the battle for the center is futile, what would be the chance of the forces that did not join Bolsonarism? As long as there is an extreme right, the center right will be squeezed between it and the center left. One possible way out would be radicalization to the left of the center-left, something that both the media and sectors of the left itself want. This would open up more space for the center-right, but it has little chance of happening.

Unable to recompose the center, the center-left faces the challenge of getting voters/citizens to cross the quantum divide on its side. The problem is that it lacks the means to do so. The good argument will not work and your willingness or even condition to enter the post-truth world with your face and courage seems to me to be pitiful, not without reason.

Yes, we live in a very strange world!

*João Feres Junior Professor of Political Science at the Institute of Social and Political Studies (IESP) at UERJ. He is coordinator of GEMAA – Group of Multidisciplinary Studies of Affirmative Action ( and of LEMEP – Laboratory of Studies of Media and Public Space

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