The Covid-related R$ 600 cash grant has earned President Bolsonaro more supporters among the poor of Brazil’s Northeast. This inversion of his support pyramid augurs pressure to make the R$ 600 a permanent benefit – potentially costing 6% of GDP, without any counterpart effort to contain federal expenses.
Even with Brazil rudderless and deep in the Covid-19 crisis, Bolsonaro continues to enjoy solid support from one-third of the electorate.
A survey by CMT/MDA last week, confirming other polls, reports that the number of Brazilians rating his government ‘bad’ has jumped from 31% to 43% since the start of the year – but still with 32% approving it.
It is interesting to look at the change in the profile of his supporters. Before the crisis, he was supported by a larger proportion of people with higher income and level of schooling. The Covid-19 crisis led him to lose the support of this group of the population and earn the support of poorer groups: the R$ 600 emergency assistance payment helped him gain the sympathy of needier electors in the Northeast and other regions that were formerly the stronghold of parties of the left – mainly the PT.
Wins for Bolsonaro threaten the left …
By winning over a poorer electorate, Bolsonaro makes two important gains:
1) In spite of the criticisms of his government, and some dent in his popularity, he still has support of 30% of the electorate. If he keeps this up till the end of the crisis, his approval may rise further in the last quarter of the year, when the economy starts to recover.
2) His increasing popularity among the poor is bad news for parties of the left – the PT appear to have lost their monopoly of this segment to him – and argues that the left will find it hard to grow again if these voters have migrated to him from Lula.
This inversion of the president’s support pyramid also raises a challenge for Congress and the country: possible political pressure to transform the R$ 600 monthly payment into a permanent program.
This would be highly dangerous for the public accounts in that it could cost 6% of GDP, without any effort by the government to cut expenses in the same proportion.
… but increase chances for a centrist candidacy in 2022 ?
On the other hand, Bolsonaro losing his flank of supporters with higher income and more schooling improves the outlook for building a competitive candidacy of the center – bringing together political forces that are currently dispersed and not coordinated.
The center has so far been slow to work on the idea – justifying inaction with the lazy excuse that it is still very early to think about the next presidential election.
But as we see it, the center is losing precious time for building a competitive candidacy and positioning itself as a viable alternative in 2022.
After all, its adversary will be none other than the incumbent – who at the peak of the crisis and his unpopularity was still able to boast the support of 30% of the electorate.