An atypical and virtualized dispute

Image: Thelma Lessa da Fonseca
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By NICOLE GONDIM PORCARO*

The pandemic has accentuated a scenario that benefits the electoral campaigns of those who are already consolidated in power, both on the networks and on the streets

Since March, it has been speculated how the health restrictions and social isolation resulting from the pandemic would impact the 2020 municipal elections, but only after the start of the election campaign at the end of September was it possible to observe the scope of changes in relation to previous elections. The fact is that the inequalities that permeate society, and are reflected in a very low presence of political minorities represented in institutional power, were accentuated in the atypical context of these elections.

The more traditional and cheaper way of conducting political campaigns, eye to eye, on the streets, especially important at the municipal level, is more difficult and has lost space, while the virtual arena has gained prominence. Political scientist Bruna Camilo reports that, in addition to there being fewer people on the streets, those who are there “are very withdrawn”, unwilling to talk and even accept the leaflets distributed, due to health concerns.

This context undermines the construction of an identification between candidate and voter that only face-to-face contact allows, as journalist Ana Karenina Berutti explains: “maintaining physical distance ends up imposing a distance between the candidate and the voter, something that should not happen under penalty of removing the voter from the candidate, keeping this candidate on another level, in this case literally “untouchable”.

In addition, the impossibility of holding meetings with many people, associations and local leaders, restricts the presentation of new candidacies for strategic social groups. In this context, the best-known candidacies start with an even greater advantage than usual precisely because they already have a formed electoral base and relationships with community political leaders that allow their local electoral propaganda actions, such as rallies and walks, to be better received. Smaller candidacies and newcomers to politics – the case of most women, blacks and young people, for example – have found it very difficult to establish a dialogue in spaces where they are not yet known.

Thus, applications are left with a greater focus on the internet. It turns out that, as networks are much less democratic spaces than imagined, the dispute for visibility by campaigns is determined by the capital available to carry out the promotion of content on social networks. The more money the candidacy has to invest in boosting, the more effective the performance of the algorithms becomes: the more you pay, the greater the reach and the more limited the scope of the target audience, that is, the more effective the boost.

The procedure itself for carrying out the boost is extremely complex for laymen, and requires the creation of a paid hosting site. And to carry out an impactful and assertive digital campaign, it is necessary to hire specialists in political communication and digital marketing, to which few campaigns have access.

The situation is a little better for candidacies from parties whose specialized secretariats, such as those for women, are providing advice for the production of content and distribution of material. But even in these cases, social disparities create chasms in competitiveness: the digital divide has been a major barrier for candidates who do not master technologies well and do not have their own team to help them. There are reports of candidates who need help from children and adolescents to manage the mothers' campaign on the networks.

In a way, the campaign, to be successful, became more expensive. Having more resources became more important, mitigating the impacts of judicial and legal measures for a more equal distribution of publicly funded funds for women and blacks.

Candidates who have their own resources and wealthy donors continue to have a huge advantage – accentuated by the economic crisis. And, in such adverse circumstances, political parties favor even more the candidacies considered more “competitive”: those seeking re-election or are better known – mostly white and wealthy men.

We are, therefore, facing a scenario that benefits the electoral campaigns of those who are already consolidated in power, both on the networks and on the streets. Data in Brazil and around the world already indicated how the pandemic brought disproportionate effects, whether from a class, race or gender cut(s), accentuating all known inequalities, which is reflected in the political dispute. The democratic ideal is one in which all citizens can exercise their political rights, to vote and be voted for, under equal conditions. What we observe today is that we are still a long way from that.

*Nicole Gondim Porcaro is a Master's student in public law at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).

 

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