Preliminary Observations on Brazil’s 2014 Presidential Election
It 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 divide reflects Brazil’s profound economic division, with the relatively prosperous south supporting the business-oriented candidate (Neves) and the much poorer 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.
The 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 the 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 there 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.
Perhaps 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 election, 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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