‘He means change’: Brazil’s low income Bolsonaro voters

Opinion polls say 35-40 percent of low-income voters may pick far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday.

Jair Bolsonaro
Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro gestures after casting his vote in the first round on October 7 [Pilar Olivares/Reuters]

Sao Paulo, Brazil – Edimar Passos de Souza, 51, works as a security guard and lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in a government-built housing block in Fazenda da Juta, a low-income neighbourhood in Sao Paulo’s sprawling Eastern Zone.

In the last four elections, he voted for Brazil‘s left-leaning Workers’ Party, especially ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, now serving a prison sentence for corruption.

An evangelical Christian, he says crime and corruption are Brazil’s biggest problems and so, he’s voting emphatically for Jair Bolsonaro: the far right hardliner leading Brazil’s presidential polls.

“The country is tired with the old way of doing politics,” said Edimar.

“We don’t have good education, healthcare, or security because of corruption. The only man who can solve this is the man leading the polls,” he said.

According to latest opinion polls by Datafolha, Bolsonaro – a former army captain who praises Brazil’s military dictatorship – leads his centre left-opponent Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party with 56 percent of intended votes to 44 percent.


Edimar’s vote might seem at odds with Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, often blasted as violently anti-poor, misogynist, even racist, and dismissive of social safety nets and workers’ rights.

But while Bolsonaro polls best with richer, white voters, according to Datafolha, some 35-40 percent of lower-income voters like Edimar intend to vote for him this Sunday.

In Edimar’s electoral district of Teotônio Vilela in the Sapopemba neighbourhood, Bolsonaro took 42 percent of votes in the first round on October 7, compared with 28 percent for Haddad.

Across Sao Paulo’s poorer neighbourhoods, Bolsonaro won in almost all electoral zones. Haddad won just four, including Parelheiros in the extreme south of the city, where Al Jazeera recently visited.

'The country is tired with the old way of doing politics,' said Edimar Passos de Souza, a security guard [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]
‘The country is tired with the old way of doing politics,’ said Edimar Passos de Souza, a security guard [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]

Periphery vote

“The periphery vote in Sao Paulo has always been about change – life isn’t good, it needs to change. And Bolsonaro has sold the idea that he is about change,” said Gabriel Feltran, a sociology professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, in Sao Paulo state.

Greater Sao Paulo is home to 24 million people and its poorer periphery neighbourhoods have always been important in deciding national elections.

Whether Bolsonaro’s popularity among lower-income voters of Sao Paulo represents a significant cultural shift, protest vote or flash in the pan moment is too early to tell.

“If Bolsonaro’s government is bad for the periphery, he can lose the next election,” Feltran said.

For Edimar, it was during the “Car Wash” corruption scandal and the controversial impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 that drew him to Bolsonaro.

“He was the only one that wasn’t corrupt and the only one prepared to speak his mind,” Edimar said of Bolsonaro, who famously dedicated his impeachment speech to the memory of dictatorship-era torturer, Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilihante Ustra. 

Edimar denied accusations that Bolsonaro is homophobic or anti-poor. “A large portion of the Brazilian population talks like this. It doesn’t mean anything,” he said.


He also dismissed a recent alleged scandal, published by the Folha Sao Paulo newspaper, that companies and businessmen were financing a fake news network to benefit the far-right candidate on social media platform, Whatsapp.

“This Whatsapp scandal doesn’t exist,” he said.

Edimar was born in Brazil’s impoverished north-eastern Maranhao state, which Bolsonaro once described as having “only one good thing”: a prison named Pedrinhas, the site of a bloody riot with beheadings.

In Sao Paulo, the family lived for some time in a wooden shack on squatted land and depended on Brazil’s Family Grant welfare programme. Eventually, they were rehoused by the local government.

While Bolsonaro attacked Brazil’s “Family Grant” in the past for being a handout, he now calls it an essential programme, in which “fraud” should be tackled.

Regarding Bolsonaro’s plan to shrink the state and privatise national companies as touted by his economic adviser, the ultra-liberal Paulo Guedes, Edimar had no comment.

‘Tired of violence’

While Sao Paulo’s violent crime rates have fallen steadily in recent years, most people that Al Jazeera spoke to in the Fazenda da Juta neighbourhood cited security as their main concern.

“We are tired of violence, we want to vote in Bolsonaro to see if he can make a change,” said Deusa Oliveira Goncalves, 60, a retired homemaker.

Joao Feliciano Junior said he was drawn to Bolsonaro because of opposition to 'corruption of the left' [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]
Joao Feliciano Junior said he was drawn to Bolsonaro because of opposition to ‘corruption of the left’ [Sam Cowie/Al Jazeera]

“Bolsonaro’s tough talk on crime is one of the factors that most resonates right now with lower income voters,” said Matthew Richmond, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, who studies Sao Paulo’s periphery.

“Many of these voters experience a strong sense of insecurity in their everyday lives. So when he loudly validates their concerns, it sounds like he’s on their side, even if his proposals may significantly increase violence in these areas,” he said.

Evangelical support

Experts point to another reason why Bolsonaro’s support has swelled among the poorer voters: his endorsement by powerful, evangelical Christian leaders, including Edir Macedo, the billionaire founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God church and owner of Brazil’s TV Record.

Across Brazil, the number of people that identify as evangelical continues to rise. The 2010 Brazilian census showed a 22 percent rise in evangelical churchgoers from 15 percent a decade earlier.

Joao Feliciano Junior, 42, who attends the local Assembly of God church twice a week, rents a small space in the Fazenda da Juta community where he runs a minimarket.

He said he was first drawn to Bolsonaro because of his “defence of the family” and opposition to “corruption of the left”.


“I agree with his hard line of combatting crime,” he said.

Brazil had nearly 64,000 homicides last year, the vast majority of which go unsolved.

Bolsonaro has spoken of giving greater rights to police to kills criminals and chemical castration of rapists.

In 2017, there were around 5,000 killings committed by police in Brazil, with victims mainly from poor neighbourhoods.

Erlandy Da Cruz Silva, 41, a community health worker who has a 20-year-old son, said she feared Bolsonaro’s hard line policies.

“The police are already very aggressive with young people in the community,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera