The moderate right has been buried, declared Andrea Sadi, a journalist at GloboNews. For the Senate, one-third of the seats were contested, and the center parties such as PSDB, PROS, PSD and MDB were those who lost the most. Bolsonarism has grown so much in the Senate that, according to a survey by Piauí magazine, it already has the necessary numbers to vote the impeachment cases against the Supreme Federal Court (STF) ministers. In fact, of the 20 Senate candidates supported by Bolsonaro, 14 were elected. Of the 27 supported by Lula, although not always so explicitly, only 8 won seats.
Bolsonarismo emerged even stronger in Congress compared to 2018, winning 99 seats and achieving the largest bench in the chamber. Among the most well-known names are leftist persecutors via lawfare, parliamentarians and former ministers of Bolsonaro’s government with fundamentalist religious, anti-human rights, anti-democratic, science, pandemic, and climate change denialist positions.
The campaign was mainly guided by anti-Bolsonarism and anti-Petism (against Worker’s Party) and there was no confrontation of ideas about the country’s real problems. It was as if they were asking for a blank check until the end of the election. Thus, the candidates’ narratives have become abstract and suggest, for example, that the problem of hunger would be solved by electing Lula, instead of talking about how to concretely redo what was done at the peak of his government’s Zero Hunger Program. For others, corruption would be solved by voting for Bolsonaro or Ciro Gomes (PDT), instead of debating how to strengthen the accountability and transparency mechanisms that allowed, among other issues, journalists and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to discover problems in public accounts and in the performance of governments in the last years.
The left seems to have forgotten the basic practice of pointing out the problems of the working class and their solutions and the means to operate them. These elections were based almost exclusively on the political annihilation of the adversary, dumbing down the population and distancing it from its reality, further reinforcing everything behind the Bolsonarist logic. In this line, the corrosive campaign style used by Ciro only amplified this trend, causing his worst performance so far (3.04%), most likely due to the useful vote to the right of his voters and the rejection to the left that he caused.
The obscurantist Bolsonarism was strengthened in the Senate and Congress, as without debating problems, ideas, and solutions, the logic of opposition to specific figures and parties rewards sensationalist leaders that arouse visceral passions in voters. On the other hand, the federation of PT, PCdoB, and PV also obtained a great result, with 80 seats, 12 more than the current bench. The PSOL and Rede Sustentabilidade federation’s bench also grew, obtaining 14 deputies, 4 more than the current one. The most voted, both on the right and on the left, were those who most radicalized their discourse, without fear of losing voters. Radicalization of the discourse is understood by those who have consolidated a broad public by pointing out more clearly who are the enemies and the allies of the Brazilian people, which problems are worthy of attention, and which solutions are the most suitable.
However, only the influence of digital media is not enough to explain the result of this first round. Candidates such as actors, successful singers, or digital influencers were not elected. Political figures fared better than celebrities. Not even the massive mobilization of celebrities gave Lula the necessary strength to beat Bolsonaro in the first round, even if that did not happen by a minimum percentage: 1.57%.
In states such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, two of the three largest electoral centers in the country where Bolsonaro is stronger, the participation of celebrities in the left campaigns did not have the expected effect either. In both states, celebrity candidates were not elected and polls did not predict the strength of the right at the vote.
Although the low effectiveness of celebrity turnout also occurred in other states, affecting the performance of candidates to the Senate, Congress, legislative assemblies, and state governments, the nationalization of state campaigns, as well as a campaign based only on annihilating the adversary, also generated a framing of reality that ended up limiting the growth of many left and center candidates.
In São Paulo, for example, there will be a second round. Bolsonaro’s candidate, Tarcísio de Freitas (Republicans), unexpectedly came in first place with 42% of the votes, against 36% for Fernando Haddad (Worker’s party). Tarcísio does not even have a political career in São Paulo. He is from Rio de Janeiro and changed state only to run for governor. Having made his change of electoral domicile recently, in an interview with Rede Vanguardia, Tarcísio could not answer in which place and neighborhood of São Paulo he is registered to vote.
In Rio de Janeiro, Cláudio Castro (Liberal Party) won in the first round against Marcelo Freixo (PSB – Socialism and Liberty Party) with 59%. In the state, one of Marcelo Freixo’s campaign events without the presence of Lula with the greatest media potential was poorly attended, although it was attended by well-known artists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Fábio Porchat, Gregório Duvivier, among others. In Rio de Janeiro, Freixo was widely voted only in the state capital, which shows that not even the influencers who supported the campaign were able to give capillarity to the candidate’s ideas in other regions of the state, despite the fact that his opponent, the incumbent governor of the state, is involved in several scandals of embezzlement and corruption.
In most states, the national campaign parasitized the state campaigns, nationalizing a debate that should have remained at the local level. In both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, for example, leftist candidates overemphasized anti-bolsonarism in their campaigns. This ended up hurting their respective campaigns by reactivating the 2018 anti-Petism.
On the other hand, by nationalizing the state campaign, especially in Rio de Janeiro, the local campaign was emptied. From the perspective of attention economics, the left-wing candidates themselves implicitly suggested to voters that the most important terrain of struggle was the national one, which made spontaneous actions on social media converge almost exclusively on the Lula vs Bolsonaro clash. They themselves were responsible for draining the militancy’s energy from the state debate, directing it mostly to the national debate. Thus, state campaigns became abstract, unintelligible, and lost reach and capillarity in the territory, failing to make people feel the importance of the vote for the left in their states.
Although Bolsonaro’s challenge for a victory in the second round is greater, Lula still faces some local obstacles, especially where his allies lost the elections and will not be able to campaign.
Translated from Portuguese by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva