São Paulo

Survey: Right-wing demonstrations growing more polarized


Researchers and students at the University of São Paulo (USP) have been studying political polarization in Brazil for a decade. The data they’ve collected indicate that right-wing street demonstrations are moving further to the right. This trend was once again evident in the latest demonstration in support of former president Jair Bolsonaro, who is under investigation for allegedly plotting a coup d’état.

For this study, USP’s Group of Public Policies for Access to Information (GPoPAI) established the Monitor of Political Debate in the Digital Environment. The team includes academics from diverse fields, ranging from master’s students in Mathematics to History, as well as experts in Literature and Social Communication.

The group has carried out approximately 50 surveys to date. The most recent one was conducted during the demonstration on Sunday (Feb. 25) on Paulista Avenue, called by the former president. According to the researchers, the demonstration had the highest turnout since the end of 2015 and indicates an increase in the number of individuals who declare themselves “proud to be right-wing” at public events considered to be on the right-wing political spectrum. This trend is believed to be linked to the phenomenon of Bolsonarism.

At the demonstration on Sunday, nine out of ten respondents identified themselves as ‘right-wing.’ Additionally, over 95 percent described themselves as ‘conservative’, 78 percent ‘very conservative’ and 18% ‘somewhat conservative.

“This is new,” highlights Professor Marcio Moretto, one of GPoPAI’s coordinators, as he compares it, for instance, with the demonstration on March 26, 2017, in support of Operation Car Wash, also held on Paulista Avenue. In that survey, “49 percent of respondents identified themselves as ‘right-wing’ or ‘center-right’.”

On September 7, 2022, a similar survey had already identified a rise in self-identified right-wing individuals to 83 percent, marking an increase of over 30 percentage points compared to the pro-Lava Jato event in 2017. Subsequently, on November 26, 2023, another right-wing gathering on Paulista saw 92 percent of participants declaring themselves as right-wing. This trend persisted on February 25, with 92 percent of attendees self-identifying as right-wing, even with a significantly larger turnout.

Reactionarism

 If the definition of the political and ideological spectrum is clear, the professor believes that self-identification as “conservative” is not accurate. “To put it literally, the conservative wants to slow down changes that the progressive wants to speed up.” In Moretto’s opinion, the participants in Sunday’s demonstration “want a kind of revolution backward. They want to rescue values that have been left behind in the past. Bolsonarism isn’t exactly conservative, it’s more reactionary.”

In addition to the distinctions among the political actions, the coordinator of GPoPAI observes symbolic parallels with other events. Moretto points out that, similar to past editions of the March for Jesus, many demonstrators and politicians on Sunday waved Israeli flags.

“It seems to me that this has to do with evangelicals’ understanding of the land where Israel is located as a Promised Land. For them, Bolsonaro represents what they call Judeo-Christian culture,” says the coordinator. On Sunday, 29 percent of those present identified themselves as “evangelicals”, a lower proportion than those who declared themselves “catholics” (43%).

Moretto also notes that, beyond religious motivations, “there is an effort by the State of Israel to encourage this and to engage with evangelicals as a supportive force,” particularly in light of the conflict in Gaza.

Profile

According to data collected by GPoPAI on Sunday (25), the São Paulo rally was predominantly attended by men (62%), white individuals (65%), aged 45 and over (67%), with a university degree (67%), half of whom with an income ranging between 3 and 10 minimum wages, and 66 percent of whom live in the São Paulo metropolitan region.

Marcio Moretto highlights that the demographic profile of the demonstration attendees does not reflect that of the broader Brazilian electorate or even of São Paulo. “Access to Paulista Avenue is restricted here in the city of São Paulo; it’s located in a central and expensive area. The majority of São Paulo’s population lives on the outskirts, and it’s not easy to reach Paulista Avenue.”

The coordinator of the research group also noted that 61 percent of respondents were against the declaration of a state of siege in 2022 (15% were unable to answer), 45 percent expressed opposition to the intervention of the Armed Forces (12% were unable to answer), and 39 percent were against the implementation of a Law and Order Guarantee operation (12% were unable to answer).

“This indicates that people were defending Bolsonaro as perhaps an alternative to the Workers’ Party (PT). They weren’t necessarily there embarking on the coup adventure that took place on January 8, although they did go to Paulista to defend their leader, who is being accused of having conspired,” he added.

The survey conducted by the Public Policy Group for Access to Information interviewed a sample of 575 people between 1:30 pm and 5 pm along the entire length of the demonstration on Paulista Avenue. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points, with a 95 percent confidence level.

Coup d’état

The protest on Paulista Avenue on February 25 was convened by Bolsonaro and his allies at a time when the former president and his associates are under investigation for allegedly attempting to overturn the results of the 2022 elections, in which he was defeated in his reelection bid. During the demonstration, the former president, who has been barred from running for office until 2030 due to abuse of economic power as ruled by the Superior Electoral Court, criticized the actions of the Supreme Court, and called for amnesty for those convicted of the attacks on the headquarters of the Three Powers on January 8, referring to them as “allies.”

Bolsonaro is under investigation by the Federal Police and the Supreme Court for the January 8, 2023 attack on the headquarters of the Three Powers in Brasília, which was deemed an attempt to undermine the democratic rule of law and an act of coup d’état.

During his speech, Bolsonaro admitted the existence of a draft text that proposed a state of siege, as well as the arrest of parliamentarians and Supreme Court justices. The investigations suggest that the decree was intended to support an attempted coup d’état. The former president criticized the criminal investigations by the police into the draft.



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