Evangelical vote or evangelical vote?

Image: Patricia McCarty


Considerations on the role of religion in voting decisions

To understand the weight of religion in voting decisions, it is necessary to question how religion can influence the vote of voters. According to the academic literature, there are three main theoretical models to understand how religion affects the electoral decision.

The first is by belonging to the same religious group (identity factor). According to this theoretical model, voters choose their representatives because they share the same religious identity. In presidential elections in Brazil, historically, it was Anthony Garotinho and Marina Silva (who presented themselves as evangelical candidates) who managed to mobilize a portion of evangelical voters in the 2002, 2010 and 2014 elections. Taylor Boas found that when a candidate uses the word “pastor” before his name, there is a lower chance that non-evangelical voters will vote for him and, on the other hand, there is a greater chance that evangelical voters will support that candidate.

The second is via beliefs and values ​​(beliefs and values ​​factor). In this case, voters choose candidates who are closest to or who defend moral values ​​important to the group, such as issues associated with the role of religion in society, abortion, same-sex marriage, religious teaching in schools, etc. The importance of values ​​is present in almost all elections. In 1989, Lula did not have such a satisfactory performance in the most popular classes. What would have explained this? Second Mariano and Pierucci, at the time, Lula was the candidate presented as a threat to traditional Brazilian values ​​and against religion, which were very important for the popular classes. After that year, there were attempts to make the abortion issue salient, mainly in elections in which Dilma Rousseff was the PT candidate. Such salience can be produced either by a candidate's campaign or by public opinion leaders, such as religious leaders.

The third is the political communication established between the faithful and their religious leaders (communication factor). It is important to emphasize that here we are not just talking about a “staff vote”, in which a leader uses the resources of the Church and his position of authority to “force” the faithful to vote for a candidate. Although political campaigns during cults and masses are prohibited by the Constitution, there is no defined border between what fits and does not qualify as political campaign within cults. One illustrative episode this is the case of pastor Josué Valandro Jr., from the Attitude Baptist Church. In this case, the pastor does not explicitly ask for votes, but prays for Jair Bolsonaro to win the 2018 elections.

However, this practice cannot be generalized to all churches and temples. Not all religious leaders use the pulpit to talk about politics. This depends on the openness that such leadership has to do this. In a religious community marked by the diversity of political interests, this practice can be costly for religious leaders. Talking about politics depends on the degree of openness that the leadership has with the religious community and knowledge of its interests.

After the 2018 elections, the last two theoretical models (values ​​and communication) gained more prominence. This was mainly due to the fact that Jair Bolsonaro had a great performance among evangelicals. This massive support from the second largest Brazilian religious group (and which is on the rise) was explained by the support of the great evangelical leaders and the fact that Jair Bolsonaro was the first candidate to strongly defend an ultraconservative political agenda in terms of moral values.

That year, discussing the relationship between religion and politics was synonymous with discussing the relationship between evangelicals and Jair Bolsonaro. There are reasons that justify this confusion. First, because it was in this group that there was a more homogeneous vote. Second, politics is something much more present in evangelical churches than in Catholic churches. Catholic priests do not engage with the same intensity as evangelical pastors. The third point is that evangelicals are more assiduous to services than Catholics. Therefore, they are more exposed to the political messages of their leaders. Finally, the fourth point is that evangelicals are more conservative than Catholics in relation to some moral guidelines.

In 2022, this scenario seems to repeat itself, although with less intensity. One of the factors that help to understand this drop is the strong economic crisis.

Source: Folha de São Paulo.

The data above is from Datafolha and shows the performance of Lula and Bolsonaro among evangelicals. It is important to highlight that at the end of May 2022, the performance of both candidates was very similar in this group (both close to 40%). Over time, it is possible to observe a change in the voting intentions of evangelicals, revealing an advantage for Jair Bolsonaro. This change can be explained both by the movements of Jair Bolsonaro (activating the conservative values ​​of this electorate) and by the political campaigns in the Churches, conducted by religious leaders. Therefore, for Lula to perform better in this segment, he must have the support of great religious leaders.

It is worth remembering that the support of Edir Macedo – leader of one of the largest evangelical churches in Brazil (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus – IURD) – for Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 did not occur at the beginning of the campaign. Edir Macedo was a supporter of Alckmin. With the then PSDB candidate out of the race and Lula's impediment to run, Edir Macedo starts to support Bolsonaro, who was ahead in the electoral polls. As Lula has been performing better than Jair Bolsonaro, with some chance of winning in the first round, we must keep an eye on the steps of this religious actor of national relevance. It is important to highlight that religious leaders are political actors with economic and not only moral interests. Issues related to telecommunications, for example, are very important to them.

Another factor that should negatively affect evangelical support for Jair Bolsonaro is the economy. Considering that almost half of evangelicals (and Catholics) have an income of up to two minimum wages, it is expected that the poor performance of the economy will activate the economic vote in this group, especially among people who are less exposed to group pressures and political messages of religious leaders.

The share of evangelicals that is not exposed to the institutional pressures of a Church is considerable. Analyzing data from the 2010 Census, of those who declare themselves to be evangelicals, 21,8% are evangelicals with no ties to churches or "unchurched”. Among the “unchurched”, there is no presence of a religious leadership that gives electoral clues to the faithful, or that uses the “assistance network” of the church to “exchange” for votes. This type of reasoning was very well developed by Victor Silva. According to him, “the increase in well-being induced by the Bolsa Família Program (PBF) produced electoral returns for the PT only among non-Pentecostal beneficiaries and in places with a high concentration of poor Catholics”.

In this context, it is important to emphasize that it is not possible to speak of an evangelical vote, but of a vote of evangelicals. These, in addition to representing a heterogeneous group, do not have a crystallized political interest around a candidacy or a specific political agenda. It is plausible to think that part of Jair Bolsonaro's success among evangelicals is due to the difficulty that center and leftist parties have in dealing with issues related to the role of religion in the lives of these male and female voters.

*Matheus Gomes Mendonca Ferreira is a doctoral candidate in political science at UFMG.

Originally published on the website of election observatory.


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