Brazilian Elections: Polarization and Uncertainty – Latin American Elections Series 2018

“The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”

Similarly to other countries in Latin America, Brazil is going through elections this year. The 2018 elections will choose the country’s next Federal Deputies, State Deputies, Senators, State Governors, and the new President together with his Vice-President.

On October 7th, all the new representatives of the legislative houses were already elected. As for the executive, according to the Brazilian electoral rules, a candidate must receive 51% of the valid votes to win. If no candidate obtains such a margin, the elections are to be decided on a run-off between the first and second most voted candidates. This year, 13 Federal States managed to elect new State Governors on the first round, while 14 will have to vote once again during the run-off.  The Presidential elections will also be decided after the run-off taking place on this Sunday (October 28th) in which 147.306.275 Brazilians are apt to vote [1].

It is the 8th presidential election decided via direct popular vote since the end of the military dictatorship in the 80’s. It is also the most polarized elections the country has ever faced, drawing increased attention from the international press and also political declarations from international figures.

The 2018 elections are occurring in such way as a result of ongoing political and economic crisis, which started in 2014. After a long period of increasing economic growth, Brazil’s gross domestic product (GPD) stagnated and started shrinking during the following two years. The recession, combined with the rise of unemployment and interests rates affected of all sectors of the economy.[2]

This scenario was worsened by several corruption charges against most political parties, such as the ones brought by the “Mensalao” and the “Car Wash Operation” (“Lava Jato”)  [3], fomented public discontent against the political establishment, especially against the Worker’s Party, to whom Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president at the time, belongs. Ms. Rousseff was first elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014 during the fiercest elections of the country, until then, since the re-democratization in 1989 – a prediction of the upcoming crisis. [4]

As a response to the social dissatisfaction, a process to impeach Ms. Roussef started in the Chamber of Deputies in December 2015 and culminated in her removal from office in August 2016. [5] The vice-president, Michel Temer, took over the position and inaugurated a period of austerity policies and structural reforms, such as the labor reform and the 20-year public expenditure cap. [6] Nevertheless, the public discontentment, as well as the economic difficulties, remain and led to demands for a new direction in which the way the country is conducted.

In this highly turbulent context, the election to define the Executive’s highest post is currently being disputed by two candidates:



Fernando Haddad is an academic and university professor who entered the politics in 2001 as the Cabinet Chief of the Finance Bureau in the city of Sao Paulo, one of the biggest cities in the country. In 2005, he became the Minister of Education appointed by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In 2012 he was elected the mayor of Sao Paulo. [7] In the 2018 elections, he was initially the vice-president candidate by the Worker’s Party, but in September it was appointed as the lead candidate after the Superior Electoral Court ruled against Lula’s candidacy. The former president has been charged guilty of a corruption case related to the Car Wash and therefore can not compete in any electoral race according to the law “Clean Record” (“Ficha Limpa”) that was approved during his presidency. State Deputy Manuela D’Avila was further appointed as vice-president in the 2018 campaign.






Jair Bolsonaro
is a former army captain who joined in the military in 1977 and joined the reserve in 1988. He was first elected as a federal deputy for the state of Rio de Janeiro in 1991 and has been successively re-elected since then. In 2018, he changed parties and joined the Social Liberal Party, which launched his presidential bid in August. [8] His running mate for vice presidency is the reserve General Hamilton Mourao. He appointed the economist Paulo Guedes, from the University of Chicago, as the economic advisor for his program. On September 6th, he was the stabbed and severely wounded during a rally. [9] He has been recovering in the hospital since the attack and did not participate in the further debates.






Both candidates face high levels of rejection among the electorate and are opposites in their ideologies, proposals, and postures. Mr. Haddad and the Worker’s Party are traditionally located in the centrist-left wing of the political spectrum. He was endorsed by Lula after his nomination as a candidate and started the elections with 4% of voting intentions, growing up to 22% near the first round. He received approx. 29% of the valid votes, assuring a place on the run-off this Sunday. Despite the close links with Lula and his party, Mr. Haddad discourse has been conciliatory, including declarations in which he recognizes mistakes in the economic policies from previous Worker’s Party governments and defends that, if elected, he will pursue gradual reforms and govern with a more moderate tone. Mr. Haddad platform relies on addressing the socioeconomic disparity and revoking some of the austerity measures adopted during Mr. Temer’s government.

On the other hand, Mr. Bolsonaro, who received approx. 46% of the valid votes in the first round and continues leading the polls for the presidential run, became known for his conservative positions and opposition to left-wing policies. He presents himself as a political outsider, a discourse that has been well received by the public in the context of the disillusion with the traditional political class. He is a strong defensor of the economic liberalism, family values and his primary political platform lies on anti-corruption and public security. Some of his declarations are very controversial, as when he declared that he “would rather have a dead son than a gay one”, that the “mistake of the [Brazilian] dictatorship was to only torture, and not kill” and that he would not “accept any results [from the 2018 election] different than what I want [meaning, his election]”. [10] [11] [12]

As a reaction to Bolsonaro’s polemic declarations regarding minority groups and the dictatorial period in Brazil, the movement #EleNao (#NotHim) emerged, organized on social media by women, to think about strategies and actions to decrease his number of electors. Although there were attempts of demobilization by hacking virtual groups and threats its organizers, the movement led thousands of people to the streets of more than a hundred cities in Brazil and around the world to demonstrate against the candidate on 29th September – a week before the first round of elections. The countermovement on the same day did not have the same adhesion on the streets, but the reaction to the demonstration in social media (mainly Facebook and Whatsapp) was intense and targeted against the participants. [13]

Social media’s importance has grown lately in Brazil, as with a growing discredit in the traditional press, more Brazilians are using them to acquire information. Thus, social media is the stage and the thermometer of the public’s mood on these elections. Furthermore, following an increasing global trend, fake news also plays an important role. Despite the creation of the Consultative Council on Internet and Elections, little government action has been seen to curb the dissemination of fake news. The current president of the Supreme Electoral Court declared that the Court “is still learning how to deal with the fake news.” [14]

The private sector and academy created fact-checking initiatives. For example, the Third Party Fact-Checking Report shows that, between August and October (before the first round of the elections), the ten most popular fake news were shared about 865,000 times on Facebook. There is no available similar data on Whatsapp, but it is easy to assume that the number is not far from it, if not higher: it is possible to forward a message to 20 people at a time, create groups of 256 and broadcast a message to 256 different contacts. [15] [16]

In such an environment, there is only one certainty: whoever receives most votes this Sunday will be in charge of a country that is deeply polarized, deluded with its institutions and politics, and still economically debilitated. There is no easy way out, but, as Chico Buarque once said, tomorrow will be another day. [17]






















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Patricia Loggetto Patricia Loggetto is a student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, and she is specializing in Public and Nonprofit Management and International Political Economy. She obtained her bachelor's in International Affairs by the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and has worked previously in the finance and fiduciary sector and also in a startup focused on education. Her areas of interest include politics, education and public health.   Carolina Reis is a first-year-student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. She holds a bachelor's degree in Law from the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, and a specialization in Public Management. Before coming to the Willy Brandt School, she did an internship at the Organization of American States, in Washington DC, and worked at the Municipal Government of her hometown in the area of planning and management.

2 Responses

  1. Jean de Dieu Cirhigiri

    Thank you Patricia Loggetto and Carolina Reis for bringing updated details about, not only the electoral process going on in Brazil now but also some socio economical facts, which, not well handled properly and ethically, especially when it comes to policies design and implementation, may bring the acquired progress of a Country to less then the formal situation. But I do believe, as you stated from Chico Buarque, that tomorrow is another day and it will bright definetely for Brazil. What is true with Brazil is true from many other Countries actually assessing their future and we do thank you again for the article and inspiration. The best both in Your Careers.

  2. Yen Dong

    Thank you very much, dear Patricia and Carolina, for the very insightful and well-written article. I have enjoyed every bit of it.