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One cannot make the mistake of attributing responsibility for the government's decline in popularity to communication alone; It would be the same as covering the sun with a sieve

For months now, signs of a lack of harmony between the government's achievements and the advances made in almost 15 months of President Lula's new mandate began to emerge, especially in the population's perception of their living conditions, well-being and security. The most recent surveys indicated that the drop in the government's assessment began in August last year, including in the Northeast, and continues on a downward curve. Why is this happening and is it a cause for concern, if there are clear signs of improvement in the economy, in employment, in the recovery of social programs that are so necessary and expensive to the population, such as Bolsa Família and Minha Casa, Minha Vida?

There are no simple answers, but there is a perception that the government is losing the battle of narrative and communication. That your communication policy fails in two moves. The first: he does not compete daily in front of corporate media news to clarify his points of view and decisions. The second is equally serious: it fails to overcome the blockade of far-right social media bubbles that continue to feed their followers with a parallel reality of fake news ranging from topics such as family, health, vaccines and abortion to public safety issues. and education. But one cannot make the opposite mistake of attributing responsibility for the government's decline in popularity to communication; it would be the same as covering the sun with a sieve.

It is necessary to take stock of the policies and programs resumed in this third Lula government in areas that polls indicate are sensitive to voters – health and public safety, employment and income –, which require monitoring and coordination. It is not just about controlling execution, but about the political expression of the government's goals and actions so that they can be implemented in Parliament and with allied parties and our social base. In the moment and political cycle we are experiencing – the challenge of an alliance with the center-right, on the one hand, and the relentless opposition from the extreme right, on the other –, political articulation takes on a new dimension. And the government’s delivery capacity needs to be strengthened. 

It is a fact that there are economic factors influencing the state of mind and evaluations of citizens. There is a perception that prices are high in supermarkets. And most importantly, there are also political and ideological factors that erode the credibility of the government as a result of divisions that are consolidated in society, or class interests and views on our way of life, our family relationships, our religion.

Just as seen in other countries, in broad sectors of Brazilian society there is a feeling of abandonment by the State, loss of social status and disbelief in the future. The religious and family issue and conservatism strengthen and unify these social sectors that oppose the radical changes of the globalized world, where financial capital predominates and the concentration of income is the rule – a concentration that dismantled the Welfare State. Still, there is an agenda that recognizes gender and racial equality, the defense of the environment, LGBTQIAPN+ diversity, and opposes the advance of the xenophobic, homophobic and authoritarian extreme right.

We have to recognize the efforts of the third Lula government, since the president took office in 2023. It overcame the blackout in the federal administration that Bolsonarism caused to sabotage the transition, it faced the coup of January 8th (which, in fact, began on the day of Lula's diplomacy, on December 12, 2022), managed to implement the Transition PEC and resume practically all relevant social programs, controlled inflation, resumed growth in employment and income (although wages are still low) and replaced the Brazil as a protagonist in the world.

Against the progress, there are variables that the government and Lula do not control: high interest rates, the main cause of the primary deficit and increase in public debt, a Congress with a right-wing majority, and the effects of the drop in commodity prices. El Niño, the off-season, administered prices – electricity, water, telephone, gas, transport – and the rise in school fees and food and fruit prices indicate the need for the country to have food security not only in production, but also in stocks and reserves of basic products, such as rice, beans, oil, cassava and others, to avoid seasonal highs or price increases on the international market. This will provide security for the producer and allow internal supply to be regulated to mitigate fluctuations.

The surveys indicate the main demands coming from different social sectors, the basis for voting for Jair Bolsonaro. This is the case of evangelical women, who demand a comprehensive education program, already announced by the government, as well as the Pé de Meia scholarship, both to keep their children in school throughout the day and for more attractive teaching and effective learning. Young people, where we have lost support, run after jobs or credit, as is the case with app employees. Elderly people want cheap care and medicine. There is a huge concern among the population, especially in the suburbs, about having more public security. The answer does not lie in the massacre of Rota in São Paulo or in the executions of militias in Rio de Janeiro, but rather in an articulated system that gives guarantees to citizens that they are protected against bandits. We must end the perception that crime pays and that the State is convenient with criminals.

Without alarmism, but with responsibility, we must evaluate our relationship with the political forces, leaders and social sectors that voted against Bolsonaro and Lula, from the perspective of defending democracy and a program that brought us together in the campaign and gave us victory. This alliance and this dialogue must be present in the government and in its communication, otherwise we risk losing this citizen voter who gave us victory. In direct language, there is a need for transmission between the campaign line and the government, in communication and political alliances. In government speeches and acts.

Government is a collective construction and its internal and external relationship in Parliament, in other institutions and in society needs to express alliances, including in the president's party, the PT, which cannot present itself as a dissenting voice from the government under penalty of paying a high political price. A government without a leading nucleus and without a team, which only depends on the leader, the president, certainly has its limits and costs.

Maintaining the so-called polarization with Bolsonarism has a price. We must be careful not to become trapped in the bubbles of our electorate against his. We won because we won the support of non-PT, progressive, democrat citizens. We must deepen this alliance.

One of the Lula government's biggest challenges is the fact that, in 2024, the variables of 2023 will not be present: the expansion of family consumption, the growth of the agricultural sector, the increase in public spending by 7% thanks to the Transition PEC , the agricultural bumper crop and weather conditions, the increase in the minimum wage by 7,4%, the drop in food inflation; These are all factors that have impacted income upwards in exactly the sectors where food has a greater weight.

In 2024, there will hardly be the same expansion in government spending or increase in the minimum wage. Even though, based on data from the first two months, growth is higher and there is a window for an increase in public investments. We are also already seeing food prices putting pressure on the inflation rate, which led the President to demand measures from his ministers in the area to increase production and build stocks and reserves of basic foods.

In addition to an important concern: credit is limited by the high interest rates maintained by the Central Bank, hence President Lula's daily complaints, and by the very high bank spreads. Together, they create brakes on credit expansion. What remains are public investments and state-owned companies, also dependent on revenue growth, the second phase of the tax reform on income and dividends and the fall in interest rates, or a change in the governance and strategic objectives of public banks, the that the liberal and Bolsonarist opposition oppose.

In this scenario, government unity with its center-left support base and social mobilization have never been more important to sustain the changes necessary to overcome these real challenges and dispute the narrative of the reasons that prevent the country from growing and distributing income. The challenge is just one: making the economy grow.

Finally, the time has come for Lula, our president, to meet the people. He needs to travel around Brazil, take to the streets, for a single reason: the greatest and best communicator is called Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

* Jose Dirceu He was chief minister of the Civil House in the first Lula government (2003-2005), national president of the Workers' Party and federal deputy for São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Memories – vol. 1 (editorial generation). []

Originally published on the website World Opera.

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