Aecio Neves

Brazil’s Soy Empire: Mato Grosso in the 2014 Election

(Note: This post completes a brief series on Brazil’s 2014 Election. This series has benefitted tremendously from the informed and insightful comments by Frederico Freitas, Ygor Coelho Soares, and Steve. Many thanks!)

Brazil 2014 election  map districtsIn the electoral map of Brazil’s 2014 election, the vast but relatively lightly populated state of Mato Grosso in the center-west stands out for the strong support that most of its districts gave to the defeated challenger Aécio Neves. Although the triumphant incumbent Dilma Rousseff won handily in a limited area of south-central Matto Gross, most of the rest of the state strongly favored Neves. Yet Mato Grosso does not fit the general profile of areas that rejected Rousseff in favor of Neves. It has historically been a mid-income state, much less prosperous than the core areas of Neves support in the southeast. It is also unlike southern Brazil in having a non-white majority. According to the Wikipedia:

The last PNAD (National Research for Sample of Domiciles) census revealed the following numbers [for Mato Grosso]: 1,532,000 Brown (Mixed) people (50.92%), 1,179,000 White people (39.16%), 239,000 Black people (7.93%), 41,000 Amerindian people (1.37%), 14,000 Asian people (0.45%)

Cerrado agriculture mapBut Mato Grosso has been changing rapidly in recent years, with both its population and its economy surging ahead. The Wikipedia table of Brazilian per capita GDP by state places Mato Grosso in the eighth position, between Parana and Minas Gerais— and it is seven years out-of-date. One of the main reasons for the state’s rapid economic growth is the boom in soy farming. Only a few decades ago, most of Matto Grosso was considered almost worthless for agriculture, due to the poverty of its soils. But researchers at Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA), a state-owned firm connected with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, developed effective methods Leading Soy Producersof enhancing soil fertility and bred new crop varieties adapted to local conditions. Such efforts were particularly successful in the Cerrado, Brazil’s central savannah region that covers much of southern and eastern Mato Grosso. The result has been an extraordinary agricultural surge that has allowed Brazil to Brazil Soy Mapovertake the United States as the world’s top soy producer. Farming in Mato Grosso tends to be highly mechanized and chemically intensive. Many of the large-scale famers of the region hail from southern Brazil, particularly Rio Grande do Sol.

Mato Grosso agriculture elcetion mapIntrigued by the possible connection between agricultural expansion and voting behavior in Mato Grosso, I juxtaposed an Italian land-use map of with a map of the recent election returns. Comparing these two maps, some degree of correlation is apparent, although it is by no means perfect. Many of the main soy-farming areas voted heavily for Neves. Support for Rousseff, on the other hand, was concentrated in the lightly populated Pantanal of the south-center (arguably the world’s largest wetland) which is used mainly for low-intensity cattle grazing along with with some eco-tourism. The main Rousseff-voting zone also wraps around the state’s urbanized core of Cuiabá and neighboring towns, although the cities themselves seem to have narrowly favored Neves. The paired maps also show the densely forested and sparsely settled northern swath of Matto Grosso as Satellite Image Northwest Mato Grossohaving split its vote between the two candidates. Google Earth imagery, however, indicates that sizable areas here have recently been cleared for agriculture. A comparison of the Google Earth image posted here of northwestern Mato Grosso with the electoral map indicates that the correlation still generally holds; agricultural areas tended to support Neves.

Brazil Parks MapThe largest contiguous zone of forest and other forms of natural vegetation in Mato Grosso is found along the upper reaches of the Xingu River and its tributaries in the northeastern portion of the state. Most of this region is protected as part of Xingu National Park, which was established in 1961 to preserve both the natural environment and the region’s indigenous peoples. At the time, this region was widely viewed as one of the most remote and under-unexplored parts of the world. When Satellite Image Xingu National ParkI was an adolescent, I was given a book entitled Mato Grosso, Last Virgin Land. I found it enthralling, and the name “Mato Grosso” came to signify in my mind both the forest primeval and the most inaccessible place on Earth. Today, the upper Xingu no longer seems so remote. Not surprisingly, the park and the larger river system now face a number of threats.

According to a recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund, Brazil made major progress in preserving wild lands and indigenous peoples under the governments of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), but relatively little under that of Dilma Rousseff (2010-). The report also credits most of the gains under Lula da Silva to his former environmental minister, Marina Silva. For a while, Marina Silva looked like she might have a chance to win the presidency this year, but she was soundly defeated in the first round of the election.

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Preliminary Observations on Brazil’s 2014 Presidential Election

(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is interrupting its short series on the cartography of Michael Izady to examine the recent presidential election in Brazil. Note that on the maps posted below, the international norm of using red to indicate the left and blue to indicate the right is followed.)

Brazil 2014 Election Map StatesIt has been widely noted that Brazil 2014 presidential election revels a deep north/south divide, with southern Brazil voting strongly for the centrist (or center-right*) candidate Aécio Neves and northern Brazil voting even more heavily for the center-left (or leftist*) incumbent Dilma Rousseff. From one perspective, the north/south division is even stronger than it might appear on first glance, as the crucially important state of Minas Gerais, the second most populous in the country, was itself split, with most of its south supporting Neves and its north voting for Rousseff. Overall, this longitudinal electoral Minsas Gerais 2014 Election mapdivide reflects Brazil’s profound economic division, with the relatively prosperous south supporting the business-oriented candidate (Neves) and the much Brazil 2014 Election GDP 1poorer north supporting the redistribution-oriented candidate (Rousseff), an inversion of the general pattern found in the United States. Again, this same divide is apparent in Minas Gerais, where the south-central area is relatively well-off, while the north and especially the northeast is, according to the Wikipedia, “marked by poverty.” At the state level, the main exception to the north-south split is the relatively prosperous southern state of Rio de Janeiro, which supported Dilma Rousseff. The exceptional far northern state of Roraima, which went for Aécio Neves, is much less significant, as it is sparsely populated.

Brazil 2014 election  map districtsThe district-level electoral map, however, reveals that many local areas in the south supported Rousseff and that a few in the north supported Neves. But again, economic correlates are found in most instances. This pattern is especially notable in the far southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where the less prosperous areas of the south and west generally voted for Rousseff while the more prosperous northeast supported Neves. Notably, Rio Grande do Sul as a whole favored Rousseff in Brazil 2014 election map round 1the first round of the election, when the nominally Socialist (but actually politically centrist) candidate Marina Silva took over 21 percent of the vote nationwide. Overall, I find the Brazilian connection between voting behavior and median income striking, although Brazil 2014 Election map incomethere are certainly exceptions. Consider, for example, Acre in the northwest, a poor state that nonetheless strongly supported Neves. Note, however, that most areas in the poorer eastern half of the state voted for Rousseff. (It is also significant that Acre is the home state of Marina Silva, who threw her support to Neves in the second round after having been subjected to extremely negative campaigning by Rousseff in the first round.)

The other pattern that strikes my eye on the district-level map is the overwhelming support received by Neves in Brazil’s demographic and economic core state, São Paulo, which contains almost a quarter of Brazil’s total population. Almost all parts of São Paulo state supported Neves, with most areas giving him more than 65 percent of the vote. The more southerly state of Santa Catarina, however, gave an even higher percentage of its overall votes to Neves. Santa Catarina is the fourth wealthiest first-order division of Brazil on the basis of per capita GDP, following only the Federal District (Brasília), São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. It is also arguably the most “European” part of Brazil in regard to the origin of its inhabitants, as large numbers of Germans, Italians, Poles, and Russians settled Santa Catarina in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Brazil 1994 election mapPerhaps the most interesting aspect of Brazil’s electoral divide is its recent emergence. The country has long been characterized by a profound north/south economic and social-developmental division, but in earlier elections it did not play a major role. In 1994, for example, the leftist candidate Lula da Silva won only the southernmost state (Rio Grande Do Sol) as well as the Federal District, whereas in 2002 Lula lost only Alagoas in the impoverished northeast. In the 2002 Brazil 2002 election mapelection, Lula actually took a higher percentage of votes in Santa Catarina than he did in many northeastern states. Lula’s successful social developmental programs, however, eventually gained his party massive support over most of the northeast and the rest of the north as well.

I suspect that Brazil’s recently developed north/south electoral divide will prove to be rather enduring. It will be interesting to see what future elections bring.

The 2014 electoral returns from the large western state of Mato Grosso are also intriguing, as will be explored in the next post.

* I hesitate to use the one-dimensional left/right political spectrum, which I find it absurdly crude, but it is too deeply ingrained in the public imagination to be ignored. But it essential to note that the “left” candidate in this election, Dilma Rousseff, is relatively conservative on most social issues, opposing, for example, gay marriage and abortion in most cases. In the Brazilian context, the left/right split is mostly focused on economic issues.

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