What do the Brazilians want: from the 2013 protests to the 2014 elections

Nothing more reasonable than a president being reelected, especially when she has managed to keep the unemployment rates at a historic low. But only if you ignore recent history.

Leonardo Paz Neves
2 November 2014

It is safe to say that the 2014 Brazilian elections were the most interesting political phenomena that we have lived through since the redemocratization. The result itself was not surprising if one could erase the last three months. Nothing more reasonable than a president being reelected, especially when she has managed to keep the unemployment rates at a historic low.


Probability of candidates winning the 2014 Brazilian election. View larger version.

But those three months were crazy! And in that regard, the electoral process of the 2014 elections was sheer delight for political scientists and political analysts.

Three months ago, if someone had predicted that President Dilma would win by a slim margin over the PSDB (PT nemesis for the last 20 years or so) candidate, Aécio Neves, no one would have batted an eyelid. Everything changed with the tragic plane crash in which Eduardo Campos died. Campos was also a presidential candidate and for quite some time was in third place in the projection surveys. After the accident, Marina Silva, candidate for the vice presidency under Campos, stepped in and became the PSDB candidate in his place.

This move created a huge revolution in all the projections. Marina jumped to second place in the first round and the first place (beating President Dilma) in a second round. Soon after those numbers came out, they were followed by an impressive torrent of analysis and explanation. Some said that those numbers reflected an emotional reaction towards Campos’ death. But some said that Marina had spontaneously inherited all the votes from the protesters of 2013. They were those who were reacting against the ‘old politics’ characterized by corruption, political patronage, nepotism, and other vices. Marina was different in the eyes of many: she embodied a possible alternative.

Marina Silva - Apoio a Aécio - 12/10/2014

Marina Silva - Apoio a Aécio - 12/10/2014. Aécio Neves/Flickr. All rights reserved.Three months went by, both President Dilma and Aécio Neves starting an aggressive campaign bombarding Marina, which eventually took its toll. Marina came in third, President Dilma and Aécio passing through to the second round.

The second round started off as excitingly as the first had ended. Aécio managed to kick off in the lead, sustained that for two weeks and then his strength began to falter in the last week. In the end, the President managed to pass Aécio and beat him by roughly 2%.

Apart from the thrilling twists in a roller-coaster electoral process, there are some other issues worth noting. Two lines will suffice here to sum them up. First, the polarization in the second round and second, the paradoxical mental state of the Brazilian electorate.

The first observation is, somehow, to be expected. Both candidates represent political parties that had been antagonizing each other for 20 years. The point here is that this was the sixth time since 1989 that the PT and PSDB fought the presidential elections. This time in particular the fight was bloody. The aggressive rhetoric and the misinformation were widely practiced by both candidates during their campaigns, especially in the TV Debates.

The atmosphere from both campaigns rapidly spilled over into the public which reacted accordingly and whipped up a veritable war between the supporters of both candidates. The social media platforms laid on a horror show of bullying behavior toward the opposition candidate and supporters. It became a flat-out contest between winners and losers, just like in a football match between two traditional rivals (with jerseys, flags and all).

Another interesting element on the nature of the polarization was the well-defined profile of the voter for each candidate. The higher your formal education, the bigger the chance that you would vote for Aécio. The same happened with the income levels. Geographically the map was somehow divided. Dilma won on every state on the North and Northeast of the country (except in Acre and Roraima) and managed to get both Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais from the Southeast. Aécio captured all (except Rio and Minas) the states from the South, Southeast, Central West and the Federal District and two in the North.

The point here is that this clear profile somehow guided the argument from both sides. The “southern rich educated boy/girl” clashed with the “northeastern simple poor boy/girl”. Although those archetypes did not reflect the entire truth of the electorate, it did represent a powerful narrative current in the discussions. Moreover, once the elections were over, a second torrent of hostile ‘posts’ in the social media accused the “poor and ignorant people from the North and Northeast” of having elected President Dilma.

The second interesting point to observe is regarding the high number of reelected Governors (or the election of the successor by the incumbent) including the President herself. This fact viewed out of context will again hardly surprise, but we should contextualize it together with the larger protests that occurred here in 2013.

By June/July 2013 an incredible wave of protests had swept across the country, millions of people protesting in over 100 cities. In state capitals like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia and Porto Alegre the protests happened weekly. The reasons behind and analysis of those protests are already numerous. But suffice it to say that the main idea behind everything was, “Enough, No More!”. We Brazilians were tired of the traditional politics, the political comprises that preoccupied the elites, the widespread corruption and the feeling that those politicians did not represent us (in fact, when some political parties tried to take part in the protests, they were expelled, sometimes violently, by the general public).

The net results from those protests were somehow disappointing. They managed to block the tariff increase on public transportation (the spark of the protest), obstruct a controversial bill that reduced the role of some public institutions in investigating corruption acts, and they created an environment that allowed the arrest of one Congressman (the first since 1988) on corruption charges and the emergence of a Five Point Program/Initiative offered by President Dilma (that is still only on paper).

In that respect, for many, since the results from months of weekly protests were reasonably modest, the expectation was that the “payback” would come from the voting booths. Well, it seems from this impressive number of re-elections (especially on the part of the president, and the Governors from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) that the population has rather quickly forgotten their quarrels with the political establishment. That leaves us wondering, what do the Brazilians really want???

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