“It’s too much corruption and not enough spending in education and health, or trying to bring jobs back,” Natalia Ribeiro, a receptionist in São Paulo, told me. Carlos Henrique Bernardes, a teacher in Pouso Alegre, an industrial city in the southeast state of Minas Gerais, told me that he’d “never vote for a candidate in the Workers’ Party. Never. Not after everything that happened.”
The Brazilian spring that never arrived
“I’m not a Bolsonaro fanatic,” Barbin told me when I asked him why he was planning to vote for Bolsonaro. “I’m open to new ideas, and when I look at all the candidates running for president, none of them is proposing anything new, except for Bolsonaro. He’s the only one that promises to undo what Lula and so many behind him have done. He’s the only one willing to take on the monstrous size of the state and shrink it so much that it becomes much harder for anyone to steal … Lula is Brazil’s greatest crook, and everything he and his party have done prevented Brazil from taking off.”
Indeed: Thirty-one percent of Brazilians identify corruption as their country’s No. 1 problem, while 80 percent of Brazilians don’t believe enough has been done to fight it. Last year, almost half of Brazilians were in favor of restoring a military junta if corrupt politicians weren’t punished by the judiciary. Today, less than half of the country’s population believes that democracy is preferable to any other form of government. This declining trust in institutions has led Brazilians to consider their alternatives. One study on antidemocratic tendencies shows that Brazilians are comfortable with authoritarianism.
Even then: Recent polling shows that the majority of Brazilians still want to live in a democracy. That feeling is also shared by the majority of Bolsonaro voters, who don’t see a Bolsonaro presidency as at odds with the idea of democracy. Part of that may be due to Bolsonaro’s successful strategy to soften his pro-military rhetoric, triggered by his rising popularity, which in turn has made him even more popular.
For Fábio Oliveira, a computer technician who also lives in Pouso Alegre, Bolsonaro will get his vote because he “promises to fight crime.” In 2017, Brazil broke its own record for the number of murders in a single year (63,880), according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security. Rapes also rose 8 percent, to 60,018. Military tanks patrol the streets of Rio de Janeiro, while one police officer is killed every day.
Those who call Bolsonaro supporters “ignorant” would be surprised to see his popularity among Brazilians with college degrees go from 27 percent to 43 percent in less than two months. Wealthier Brazilians, too, see Bolsonaro as their chosen candidate. Young Brazilians are also attracted to a “less traditional candidate,” especially as the country’s collective memory of what ruling by a military junta was like begins to fade. And, despite his macho rhetoric, polls show that 26 percent of women plan to vote for him. That number is double what it was two months ago. For Ribeiro, the comments Bolsonaro has made about women bother her. But she also “can’t imagine living through another four years under the Workers’ Party leadership.”
Many of Bolsonaro’s supporters don’t seem to worry about the impact of some of their candidate’s claims. “There are enough checks and balances in place in the system of government that would never allow for anything too extreme to take place. I’m not looking for someone to marry; I’m looking for someone who can get the country out of this mess, someone who’s a patriot, who isn’t corrupt,” Barbin said. “It’s a four-year bet.”