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  • Vera Galante


Political campaigns aren’t what they used to be! Not that we particularly miss the old and outdated methods – the world changed and those who were in tune with the changes, changed with it.

Brazilians watched in awe when the results of the first round of elections for governors, and president were announced on October 7th. They noticed a few unpredicted results: favorite candidates came in second (Federal District, for example), a few newcomers who didn’t even figure in political polls came in ahead of very well known politicians (Rio de Janeiro is the most obvious case), and Federal Representative, Jair Bolsonaro who, according to the polls would lose to any candidate who would run against him in the runoff elections on October 28, is well ahead of Fernando Haddad, the PT (Labor Party) candidate. The same occurred in the United States two years ago: the candidate who was ahead in the polls, lost to Donald Trump in the Electoral College. What happened?

It is still too early to affirm with any degree of certainty what actually happened, but we are able to draw some conclusions. The campaigns in Brazil depended heavily on social media. PT has a very strong presence in social media, and so does Bolsonaro. Ciro Gomes and Marina Silva also used social media very well. However, to everyone’s surprise, Henrique Meirelles was the one who made the best use of it. Alckmin, who apparently had everything going for him, was unable to gain popularity and, strangely, his campaign was not able to take off. What was missing? He had a stellar economic team, a running mate who is a very well respected politician, had previous political experience, but he made poor use of social media – he did not reach the people. His postings were too serious, technical and dull – could anyone really speak like that? In times when image counts more than proposals, he did not captivate voters.

Even so, many analysts affirmed with conviction on news programs, newspapers, and on the radio that candidates who had X% rejection rate would not be elected – both candidates who are now in the runoff had very high rejection rates, way above the X that was predicted. So-and-so is not doing well on the polls because the free political programs on TV stations and the radio haven’t started: the candidate allotted more time did not do well. A country with the so-called coalitional presidentialism or a hybrid of presdentialism and parliamentarism, only those who are able to establish a political coalition can win – the candidate with the broadest coalition did not win. Something went wrong in the analyses and in the outlooks (also in the opinion polls, but this is for another article).

In the US, Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns were very different – the Democrat had previous experience as a Senator for the state of New York, she had been First Lady of the country and of the state of Arkansas, she was the first woman to run for president (after the presidency of the first African-American), was Secretary of State, had proposals that were totally doable and, apparently, was the favorite by far – except that a part of the population thought she was distant and arrogant. On the other hand, Donald Trump had an aggressive presence in social media (especially on Twitter), had no experience to show except that he was a bold businessman who had filed for bankruptcy several times (people believe that he did so to be able to dismiss employees without paying them the benefits), did not have concrete proposals, BUT he spoke the language people wanted to hear – less immigration, more jobs in the US, make American Great Again, and spoke about Clinton in a very derogatory manner. Who doesn’t remember General Flynn’s “lock her up” chant in every rally? All this in a language that was very easy to understand and found resonance with American workers who resented losing their jobs to immigrants, felt lack of security and who saw in Trump the man who would carry out his promises.

These workers and other segments of the population liked the simple manner by which he proposed to solve problems and elected him for president.

In Brazil the Jair Bolsonaro phenomenon is not much different. The most obvious difference is that Bolsonaro has been in the National Congress (the lower house) for 27 years. He did so little and was so invisible that the majority of the population sees him as a novice in politics. He uses the same rhetoric as Trump – he knows how to detect what the people want and capitalizes on it. And all of this fits in a tweet – 280 words are enough to solve the problem of the rapist (chemical castration), violence (arm the population), domestic violence (armed women don’t suffer violence), education (military schools are the best), and so on. He also inserted himself in the conservative, militarizing wave in the country with his slogan “Brazil above all, God above everyone”. “Brazil above all” is the shout of the Brazilian Army’s paratroopers and “God above everyone” attracts Christians of all colors. Bolsonaro intelligently evokes the army (law and order) and religiosity in his campaign.

Fernando Haddad inherited the votes of the leftist idol – former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His campaign’s slogan is “The Return of a Happy Brazil”, which brings to memory only the prosperous years under Lula, but not the years of economic crisis under Dilma Rousseff who, by the way, is not even mentioned in his campaign (Dilma was another surprise – she was seen as favorite when running for the Senate for Minas Gerais, but came in at a low 4th place and was not elected). Haddad received large number of votes in the first round, but his result could have been much better if his mentor, Lula, hadn’t taken so long to name him the candidate for the party, instead of himelf who is in jail convicted of corruption. Haddad did not have a chance to show the population who he really was, but only whom he represented. Even members of his own party didn’t feel very comfortable with this situation, and neither did portions of the traditional voters of the PT.

PT also presented itself as the only party that governs along and for the people. Apparently the people lo longer want the governing style of the party and, despite the benefits of the many social programs they have, did not vote in masse for the candidate, much to the surprise of PT.

During the days that precede the runoff elections, Haddad has been campaigning more aggressively – literally – provoking his opponent. His presence in the social medias is more intense, more forceful and in a tone that doesn’t match the image of a composed person – not much in tune with PT’s performance. Bolsonaro remains true to who he is known for – aggressive, one who speaks his mind, who will do anything he wants and Congress will have to agree, who is in control of his campaign. Even the embarrassing (to say the least) behavior of his sons, who were elected Federal Representative (PSL-SP) and Senator (PSL-RJ) is under scrutiny, demanding that their father reprehend them in public.

Donald Trump governs on Twitter and, according to him, is making good on every campaign promise. He also governs alone – does not hear the advice of those he personally chose as his advisers. We will see what, should Jair Bolsonaro be elected, as it seems, will happen, his style of governing will be.

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