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Preliminary Observations on Brazil’s 2014 Presidential Election

Submitted by on October 29, 2014 – 3:49 pm 10 Comments |  
(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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  • Fedor Manin

    From what I remember, the Northeast, much more than it is now, used to be controlled by oligarchs and political machines. I suggest reading World Elections ( if you have time, for extremely in-depth coverage of elections and electoral geography in certain countries, including Brazil.

    • Yes, that is my understanding as well. The other day in class, I showed a map of murder rates in Brazil by state, which is odd because the patterns don’t correlate with other geographical patterns in Brazil. Some northeastern states, for example, have very high murder rates (Alagoas), but in others they are low (Piauí). An excellent Brazillian student in the class suggested that the reason is probably the fact that Piauí is essentially controlled by one oligarchic political machine, whereas Alagoas is more competitive in this regard, and in regard to organized crime as well.

      Many thanks for the reference to World Elections as well.

      • Ygor C.S.

        The emergence of high murder rates in Brazil’s Northeast is a quite new phenomenon (it’s happened in the last 20 years, with an extremely fast growth in murder rates in states that had relatively low rates, such as Bahia, Ceará and Maranhão), so it may have to do, but is hardly determinated by the domination by local political oligarchies and machines, especially since their domination has been receding in the last years exactly as the crime rates boom. Traditionally, until the late 1990’s, the region, despite being the poorest, had some of the lowest murder rates in all of Brazil, with the consistent exception, exactly, of Alagoas and Pernambuco, so there may be a very specific cultural and structural factor in that state to explain its consistently high murder rates throughout decades, maintaining it at the top of Brazil’s murder rankings even after the “explosion of crime” in the other states.

  • steve

    I was born in Rio Grande do Sul. Interestingly, more than anything, the state has tended to vote against the incumbent national government, whatever the party. Over the last century, the only major exceptions were basically presidents who hailed from the state. PT itself used to be strong in many large cities, but as soon as they won the presidency the party started to decline, and in the state capital, Porto Alegre, once the most ardent PT stronghold in Brazil, the party has essentially ceased to be a relevant force and has lost almost all elections on all levels for the last ten years.

    It is also the only state in Brazil where no governor has ever managed be reelected since the return of democracy.

    Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this. In the popular discourse, voters from the state are said to be more “critical” or “engaged” than the average Brazilian, but I doubt that. Whatever the reason, it must indeed be cultural (maybe a legacy of the bloody local history of civil strife from which the rest of Brazil was mostly spared), since demographically and economically it is not much different from the rest of the south/southeast of the country.

    • Fascinating comments — many thanks. This looks like a topic for further research!

  • Ygor C.S.

    To understand why this divide appeared only recently, since until the PSDB government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso the poorer North and Northeast voted as much or more for the center-right PSDB, I tink it is critically important to analyze the divergence of social and economic development that has happened since Lula’s 1st government in 2003 between those “two Brazils”. Especially the Northeast, the poorest region, but also the North have been consistently growing above the national average in the last 10 years in all social and economic indexes one may look for: GDP, formal job expansion, HDI growth, growth in college graduations, etc. Of course they still lag much behind the other regions, as they were much behind them in the rankings of social and economic development, but the gap began to close much faster than ever before (at least in available memory). So, even if those regions – especially the Northeast – are still comparably shokingly poor compared to the more affluent Center-South of Brazil, to the people who live there and didn’t know other reality the narrative of the last 10 years of Brazil is a lot more positive than the one “felt” by the inhabitants of Brazil’s Center-South.

    Brazil’s greatest feat in the last 10 years was also the reduction of misery through social programs, expansion of the formal job market and a very high real growth (of about 75%) of the minimum wage (and the minimum wage is much more relevant to North-Northeasterns than to Center-Southerners) . It just happens that misery and especially hunger were shockingly concentrated in the Northeast (including the northern part of Minas Gerais) and the North, so, again, we have the North-Northeastern inhabitants feeling the impacts of what the PT governments have done much more than the Center-Southern Brazilians, who already lived and still live in more developed places. So, I think here we have a tale of “a government which finally reduced social and regional unequality and halved extreme poverty”, one which will sound much more convincing to people in Brazil’s “larger North” and much less so to people in the “larger South”.

    • steve

      I think we should always be careful not to give too much credit to governments (notice I say governments in general, not necessarily this one) while giving too little credit to factors that are often outside their control. It is easy to praise or blame whoever is in charge when things happen a certain way, but there are always multiple factors at play.

      PT’s first two terms in the presidency coincided with an important boom in the price of the main Brazilian export commodities, which brought about rapid economic growth (and consequently more tax revenue and spending, including in redistribution programs). Mind you, all of that also happened at the same time in other developing countries with similar economies (and often very different governments in charge).

      Obviously, the impact of that boom in growth and particularly in public spending – not just social programs but also large infrastructure projects – was felt more strongly in the places that had always depended the most on federal money anyway, namely the poorest areas of the northeast.

      In large part because of this dependence on federal resources, the northeast has always displayed tendencies that are the opposite of those I mentioned for the south in my previous post: whatever party or political group finds itself in power in Brasilia at any given moment is at a great electoral advantage in northeastern Brazil. Be it PSDB, PT or in the past Arena, PSD, etc.

      Also, another important aspect of the division discussed here is what one could call the “populist anti-corruption, anti-pork agenda” favoured by the middle classes in the large cities of the south and southeast. PT itself originally grew in places like Porto Alegre because of it. However, since 2005 the party has been at the centre of a series of scandals at the national level.

      Nowadays, there is a widespread perception among middle and higher classes in the south/southeast that the taxes that are disproportionately shouldered by them often go to lavish projects in the north/northeast that should “not be done at all”, or to poor people in the north/northeast that should be “working and having fewer children”, or to corrupt local oligarchs that people there “keep voting for no matter what”. Whether those stereotypes have any ground on reality or not (like all stereotypes, they have something of grotesque and perhaps unfair), the fact is that this kind of perception fuels resentment and it contributed to the divisions and acrimonious disputes we saw in this election.

      • Ygor C.S.

        I agree, but I didn’t say it was the PT government which prompted all those benefiits without external causes. The fact still remains that the North and especially the Northeast felt a much stronger impact of the reduction of poverty and more inclusive and widespread economic growth that the PT governments have used as their main electoral platforms, so it was much easier to convice the electorate there in spite of all the existing problems, and also in spite of the “moral populism” (almost entirely focused on the anti-corruption agenda) that has spread through the country, but which has a longer “tradition” in the Center-South, as you’ve said, and seems to have caught the attention of more voters IMO exactly because the voters in those regions don’t feel they have at least many other advances that have made their life much better than before.

        Interestingly, the region that benefitted most directly from the commodity boom was clearly the Center-West, with some places now almost as wealthy as the Southeast, but it became increasingly anti-PT and certainly so in this 2014 election. I suppose it has a lot to do with the high influence of large-scale agribusiness (their leaders are mostly more pro-business and conservative than PT traditionally is) there, and with the fact that in social terms the “revolution” there was much less visible and intense – it was already much wealthier – than in the poorer Northeast after the expansion of social programs, local universities, infrastructure projects and the boom of formal jobs (the job market almost doubled in 12 years there).

        As you also say, a certain tendency to vote for the incumbent governments does exist in the Northeast, as it is more dependent on federal budget, and thus more subject to its influence, but the fact that a stark division has been created, with some Northeastern states giving the PT stunningly high vote rates (78% in Maranhão, 76% in Ceará), while Santa Catarina and São Paulo gave it 39% makes me think other, much newer, socio-economic factors are influencing this phenomenon.

        • steve

          I agree that the regional divide appears to have deepend and it may yet
          turn out to be a long-term trend. However, suppose Aécio Neves had won,
          by the slimmest of margins, and subsequently there were no major changes
          in social programs or the economy in general, and he had managed to
          co-opt many traditional local leaders as all presidents do. Do you think
          that, four years from now, the Northeast would still be safe PT
          territory? I’m not entirely sure. As things stand now, however, I agree
          that this division is likely to carry over at least into the next
          presidential/gubernatorial cycle.

          • Ygor C.S.

            No, I don’t. As I said, my opinion is that this divide is not strictly ideological, but of different collective perceptions led by the different socio-economic patterns and pace of advances in each region in the last years. So, if a hypothetical Neves government ended up being very positive to the Northeast as a whole – including its poor population, which still accounts for at least 55% of the population -, the tide could definitely change in favor of PSDB. Most Brazilians are not fiercely ideological when they choose their party, especially because the ideology of Brazilian parties is mostly so flexible, and the big parties always tend to the center of the political spectrum. What happened, to me, is that the Northeast now equates “PT” with “Northeast growing faster than the rest of the country and getting more social and economic investments than ever before”. Many people here say, from the poorest to the wealthiest ones, that they voted for PT because “it gives the Northeast and its problems much attention”. That reality didn’t happen, at least as strongly, before, so the PT government achieved huge approval rates. The South and the Southeast can’t say the same – that they had never before grown so fast (in relative terms) and received so many investments. The boom of the concentration of investments, infrastructure and all kinds of benefits in the South-Southeast happened through the 19th century until the early 1970’s and was actually a huge stimulus to its faster development.