Who are the 5% of voters who think Brazil’s economy is doing well?

Businessman Marconi Antônio de Souza, 71, lives in Brasília and works in the business of card machines for corporate benefits, such as food stamps. A voter of Jair Bolsonaro (PL), he believes that the economy in Brazil is doing well.

“We had a pandemic that is not over yet and which is having an acute phase in China, we have an interference from a war and an election year. Even so, I think the economy is doing well, because the government has taken measures that have made it a reaction, such as a reduction in interest rates for real estate financing”, he told BBC News Brasil.

Marconi de Souza’s company hasn’t shrunk, but it hasn’t grown much in the last two years either. He attributes this to the pandemic and external factors.

“Our company stabilized in 2020 and grew a little last year. The tourism sector suffered a lot from the pandemic and some other sectors reduced productivity due to a supply problem that is global, but the economy has not gone back. belly full”, he says.

The businessman from Brasília is part of the 5% of Brazilians who, according to the BTG-FSB electoral opinion poll, released on April 25, consider that Brazil is experiencing “a good economic moment”. Another 32% believe that Brazil is in an economic crisis, but managing to overcome it. The majority, however – 62% – believes that Brazil is in an economic crisis and has difficulty overcoming it.

Some important economic indicators, such as high prices, high unemployment and low growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), feed this less optimistic scenario. Inflation last year, from January to December 2021, reached 10.06%, the worst rate since 2015. Taking into account the 11 largest economies in Latin America, Brazil is only behind Argentina and Venezuela, two countries that cross deep crises, which go far beyond the problems brought about by the covid-19 pandemic and its repercussions.

In March, the National Consumer Price Index (IPCA), considered the official inflation in Brazil, accelerated to 1.62%, the highest rate in 28 years. And, recently, the World Bank reduced the growth projection of the Brazilian economy from 1.4% to 0.7% in 2022.

But then, what makes 5% of voters think the economy is doing well? Who is this portion of the population?

According to political scientists heard by the report, the explanation may lie in the strong support of this public for the current government and also in the purchasing power – very rich or very poor. Understand:

Bolsonaro supporters

For political scientist Andréa de Freitas, a professor at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), these 5% are mostly made up of people who strongly support Bolsonaro. “I believe they are the hard core of support for Bolsonarism. Bolsonaro, even in the worst moments of government evaluation, always maintains something around 15 to 20% of approval”, she told BBC News Brasil.

“When we look at various questions from opinion polls that direct the interviewee to specific government issues, you always have the hard core, who thinks that everything is very well. These 5% are part of this group.”

According to Freitas, this electorate’s perception of the economy, therefore, is more linked to identification with Bolsonaro than with the socioeconomic situation of these people. This is because, highlights the professor, although there are sectors less affected by inflation and low economic growth, none of them are benefiting strongly from the current state of the economy.

In March, the IPCA accelerated to 1.62%, the highest rate in 28 years

Image: REUTERS

“I don’t think there is a sector that is benefiting, either from public policies or from the absence of public policies of the State for the economy. Everyone is, in some way, being affected by the drop in consumption, caused by the decrease in income and the rising unemployment”, he says.

According to her, in this context, voters who are part of Bolsonaro’s hard core will use “two rational tools” to analyze the state of the economy.

One of them, says Freitas, is to distribute responsibilities. “He will say that the responsibility lies with the governors who closed trade in the pandemic, Congress, the Federal Supreme Court or the Ukraine war. The second is to say that the economy could be much worse if it weren’t for Bolsonaro.”

The Unicamp professor highlights that, in fact, the pandemic and war are factors that influence the economy. “But when we look at the cold indicators, Brazil is worse than many Latin American economies. And all of them, as well as Brazil, are being affected by the war and the pandemic.”

Businessman Marconi de Souza has another assessment. For him, part of the “press and opponents of Bolsonaro” paint an overly dramatic picture of the economy.

“The segments of Brazil that have problems are not having problems because of the way the government works. The segment that suffered a lot is the informal: the guy who sold popcorn on the beach, at the traffic lights, near the stadiums. casa’ during the pandemic, these segments had losses. But the government responded by giving emergency aid”, he argues.

“As we are in an election year, people are wanting to take advantage of it. There are people wanting to burn the government.”

very rich and very poor

Professor of Political Science Maria do Socorro Braga, from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) assesses that the 5% who consider that the economy is doing well are the very rich or very poor – the latter recently benefited from Auxílio Brasil.

“These people must be part of the richest strata that, regardless of inflation or social and political conditions, will maintain a level of wealth”, he evaluates. “Or it is the very poor segment that, regardless of the situation, does not see potential for improvement in their own living conditions. They are people in vulnerable conditions, with low intelligibility of what is politically decided and the impact of these decisions on politics.”

Among the members of this poorer stratum, receiving Auxílio Brasil may have contributed to a more positive perception of the state of the economy, says the professor. This income transfer program was instituted by the Bolsonaro government to replace Bolsa Família and pays around R$400 per month to around 18 million families. The creation of Auxílio Brasil was controversial, with critics claiming that it would have an electoral nature.

In turn, Andréa Freitas, from Unicamp, believes that the benefit alone would not be enough to generate this positive evaluation. For her, the ideological component, in support of Bolsonaro, is the main factor, while Auxílio Família would be the rational argument used to justify the optimistic perception of the economy.

“It’s not that the aid doesn’t make a difference, but I think that, again, it enters this place of rational argumentation”, he says.

“There may be people who are receiving help and who feel they are better than before. But I don’t think that’s what will necessarily drive the vote for Bolsonaro, because the program implementation process was confusing and generated the perception of a policy unstable.”

Economy will be central theme of the election

The average price of a liter of gasoline was R$7,283 in the last week of April - REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES - REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES

The average price of a liter of gasoline was R$7,283 in the last week of April

Image: REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES

The fact is that the economy should be the main topic of this year’s presidential election. And the improvement or worsening in the indicators should have a direct effect on Bolsonaro’s approval.

According to the international consultancy Eurasia Group, the main concern of voters today is “income and employment”. Between March and April, polls of voting intentions revealed an advance by Bolsonaro, although former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) remains ahead in all scenarios for the first and second rounds. Lula appears with 41% to 45% of voting intentions, depending on the poll, and Bolsonaro with 30% to 32%.

And, on average, the percentage of those who approve of Bolsonaro’s administration rose from 30% to 35% in the first three months of this year. Eurasia Group attributes the improvement in Bolsonaro’s assessment “to the modest recovery of income power” of the poorest population in the first months of this year due to one-off measures.

“In the second half of 2021, real income in Brazil fell by 11%, driven by a higher-than-expected inflation rise, which hit low-income families hard. But in early 2022, these families partially recovered lost income. with the annual readjustment of 10% of the national minimum wage, 13th salary for retirees and some measures taken by the government, such as the forgiveness of student debt and release of FGTS withdrawals”, says the consultancy.

Despite this slight recovery in income, the country’s economic situation remains difficult, with high food and fuel prices. In the 12-month period, inflation reached 11.3%. Food and fuel are some of the most affected sectors.

The average price of a liter of gasoline was R$ 7.283 in the last week of April, which represents an increase of 0.18% in relation to the previous survey.

This is the highest nominal value paid by consumers since the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) began to carry out a weekly price survey in 2004. The unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2022 was 11.1%, the same level of the first quarter of 2021. It is a lower rate than that projected by the Bloomberg agency, of 11.4%.

According to consultancy Eurasia, Bolsonaro needs more substantial advances in economic indicators to continue growing in polls.

Socorro Braga, a professor at UFSCar, recalls that, historically, voters blamed the reelection candidate for the current economic crises. But the current scenario, of a pandemic followed by a war in Ukraine, made possible a narrative of blaming external factors.

“Inflation in Brazil is high and affects the middle class. In previous elections, the higher the inflation, the lower the purchasing power and, as a consequence, the government was blamed”, he says.

“But a portion of the population, especially those 5% who believe that the economy is doing well, is blaming the effect of the pandemic or the war, and not the lack of effective policies to overcome this situation. consequence of a war, the lack of supplies and the pandemic.”

It remains to be seen whether this narrative will gain strength or lose ground during the electoral campaign.