Populism and Inequality in Brazil


My project explores why do low income voters re-elect populists in high inequality contexts. To understand this, it is important to understand country context, the information environment surrounding low income voters, how voters judge democratic performance and how politicians campaign on various issues. Thanks to the CLAS grant, I was able to visit Brazil at the time of historic elections where right wing populist and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro was challenged by center left former President Lula Da Silva, amidst high political polarization and tensions running high. I was able to have meetings with many key media and business elites, which helped me gain insights into the electoral dynamics and political situation in Brazil. I was also able to meet and supervise research assistants carrying out voter interviews and discourse analysis, who I had been able to engage through another non-CLAS grant. Through these interviews, I was able to better understand the appeal and strategies of right wing populism, and how institutions can be a foil or an enabler for such populism. I would highly recommend researchers to visit the field at crucial moments, such as in advance of an election, because it helped me not only absorb the country context, but get real-time understanding of political strategies and how these were playing out. My understanding of the economics of the media, the kind of media and information that reaches low income voters, how voters view status and meritocracy in the Brazilian context and the key issues that were at the top of voter and elite minds during the election will feed into my dissertation project, where Brazil is a key case. Eventually, challenger Lula won with 51% of the vote. The two pictures show the contrast between the two Brazils - one where there were public celebrations in the center of Sao Paulo city at Lula's victory, yet not too far away at the outskirts, Bolsonaro supporters protested the results and there were road blockages in many parts of the country.

Ritika Goel
Publication date: 
November 21, 2022
Publication type: 
Student Research