Lula da Silva

Racial and Regional Voting Patterns in Brazil’s 2022 Election

Some clear racial voting patterns are evident in the 2022 Brazilian election. A map of Brazil’s relatively densely populated eastern strip, for example, shows a clear north/south divide. Its northern half is mostly non-white and voted heavily for Lula da Silva, whereas its southern half supported Bolsonaro and has a population of mostly European descent. To be sure, a few exceptions are found, such as the mostly white, Lula-voting area in the extreme southeast. When one looks at maps of Brazil as a whole, however, the situation is revealed to be much more complicated, as it does in maps of individual Brazilian states and regions. The second map posted below indicates the Brazilian states in which Bolsonaro found his highest level of support in 2022. As can be seen, four of these states have mostly non-white populations. All four of them are located in Brazil’s western zone of deforestation and agricultural expansion.

Before digging further into the details, it is important to note that race has been conceptualized differently in Brazil and the United States. In the U.S., a person with any ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa has been conventionally regarded as Black, whereas in Brazil a person with any European ancestry has conventionally been regarded as non-Black – not as “white,” to be sure, but as pardo, or brown. Historically, Brazil encouraged interracial marriage, partly due to the racist hope that it would result in a gradual “whitening” of the population. As a result of these attitudes and practices, Brazil’s Black community is estimated as constituting only around seven percent of the country’s total population. On the detailed map of racial distribution used in this post, hardly any Brazilian municipalities are shown as having a Black plurality, let alone majority. But by the U.S. system of racial classification, the Brazilian population would be reckoned as roughly half Black, with the northeast having a clear Black majority. Brazil also lacks the heritage of overt racial discrimination that characterizes the United States. Still, people with substantial African ancestry tend to be markedly poorer and less educated than people of primarily European ancestry, and they do suffer from stigmatization. But class status can partly override race; as noted in a 2007 scholarly article, “The idea that ‘money whitens’” is a classic topic in the sociological literature on race in Brazil.”

In northeastern Brazil, the poorest part of the country, voting patterns and racial patterns show little correlation. Although the population of northeastern Brazil is mostly non-white, the region does have pockets of mainly Euro-Brazilian settlement. One prominent example is the south-central part of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Income maps show that this region is more prosperous and has less dire poverty than the rest of the state, but is still relatively poor by southeastern Brazilian standards. It is not, however, distinguishable on the 2022 electoral map, as it voted, like neighboring non-white areas, heavily for Lula. Almost all of the districts in northeastern Brazil that supported Bolsonaro in 2022 are in the coastal area of Alagoas, a mostly pardo (or mixed race) area. Deeply entrenched patron-client relationships, in which local elites influence the voting patterns of non-elites, might explain this seemingly anomalous pattern.

The largest number of people classified as “Black” in Brazil are found in Bahia, a large state that covers the southern half of the northeastern region. Bahia as many distinctive cultural features, which have been both celebrated and disparaged in the rest of Brazil. The final post in this GeoCurrents series on the 2022 Brazilian election will look more closely at Bahia.

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Voting Patterns in the 2022 Election in Brazil’s Cerrado Region

As noted in a previous post, the deforested areas of Brazil’s Amazon Basin supported the extreme rightwing candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election, whereas the non-deforested areas supported the leftwing candidate Lula da Silva. Somewhat similar patterns are found in the vast Cerrado zone to the south of the Amazonian region.

The seasonally wet and dry Cerrado was mostly covered by savannah vegetation in its original state. It was long considered almost worthless for agriculture, due to its acidic soils and low levels of plant nutrients. Brazilian agricultural scientists at Embrapa, however, learned how to make the Cerrado productive, mostly by adding large quantities of lime and phosphorus to the soil. They also bred new strains of originally temperate crops that would grow well in this tropical environment. Subsequently, clearance of the highly diverse Cerrado vegetation intensified, with much of the region converted to mechanized farmland. As this occurred, Brazil surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest soybean producer. This process has resulted in major economic gains but also in social tensions, heightened economic inequality, and extensive environmental degradation. As little land in the Cerrado has been preserved for nature, it has been called Brazil’s “ugly duckling of conservation.”

As can be seen on one of the maps posted below, much more of the southern and western Cerrado has been transformed into modernized farmland than the northern and eastern part of the region. As might be expected, the main agricultural centers in the western Cerrado voted heavily for Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. The less transformed northeastern Cerrado, contrastingly, voted heavily for Lula in the same election. This environmental/economic/electoral pattern is similar to the one seen in the Amazon.

Economic class is a major factor here. The northeastern part of the Cerrado extends into the poorest part of Brazil (the eastern part of the greater northeast). As Lula was very effective in alleviating poverty and enhancing social development in his earlier terms as president, he retains great popularity in the more impoverished parts of the country. Although some areas in the northeastern Cerrado have become major centers of soybean farming, relatively few people are employed on the mechanized farms and low levels of income remain widespread, as can be seen on the first set of maps posted below. As a result, there is relatively little correlation between voting patterns and agricultural production zones in this part of Brazil, as can be seen on the second set of maps below (the areas outlined in white on the electoral map have Brazil’s highest soybean yields).

The patterns that I am describing here are quite simple and are meant to be taken only in a suggestive sense. Much more detailed work would have to be conducted to make any conclusive statements. I do find it interesting however, that a major area of mechanized soybean agriculture in far western Bahia state in northwestern Brazil voted heavily for Lula de Silva, quite in contrast to the soybean centers in Mato Grosso and other western states. States matter a great deal in Brazil, and Bahia is highly distinctive, noted for having the largest African cultural and demographic imprint in the country. I will explore correlations between racial patterns and voting patterns in the next GeoCurrents post.

(Many thanks to André Goldman for sharing his knowledge of Brazilian political geography and thus helping me write these posts. I will add André’s insightful comments to my earlier Brazilian election posts later this week.)

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Amazonian Deforestation, Support for Bolsonaro, and the Roraima Mystery

In the 2022 Brazilian presidential election, the Amazonian region was strikingly divided, as is clearly visible on the Globo map posted below. (I have added an oval and two terms on the map to mark Roraima and the Amazonian region.) Most municipalities (similar to U.S. counties) here strongly supported one candidate or the other. Bolsonaro’s zone of support lies to the south of the Amazon River, but has a distinct northern outlier in the state of Roraima. In contrast, in the large state of Amazonas in the northwest, Lula da Silva received more than 60 percent of the vote in almost every municipality. The main exception was the capital city of Manaus (population 2.2 million), where Bolsonaro took 61 percent of the vote.

The electoral divide in the Amazonian region is easily explained by economic and demographic factors. As noted in a recent Mongabay headline, “Bolsonaro loses election but finds big support in Amazon Arc of Deforestation.” The Amazonian areas won by Bolsonaro have seen extensive forest clearance and now have economies based on agriculture, grazing, and artisanal (and often illegal) mining. As people stream into these areas from other parts of Brazil, pressure for further deforestation grows. As Bolsonaro, unlike Lula, is a champion of forest clearance and mining, his high level of support in these areas is not surprising. As noted by Mongabay writer André Schröder:

Experts don’t see the result as surprising since a large part of the population in this part of the territory doesn’t consider deforestation to be illegal. “Land invaders, loggers, ranchers and gold miners want a full license to occupy the Amazon territory. And Bolsonaro is not against that,” Beto Veríssimo, researcher and co-founder of the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon, told Mongabay by phone. Voters from those municipalities benefit from politicians who promise not to fight illegal activities, according to Veríssimo.

 

 

The partially deforested, Bolsonaro-voting zone of the southern Amazon is also characterized by high rates of violent crime, as can be seen on the homicide map posted below. Force is often used here to seize land and settle disputes. In such an environment, many voters support Bolsonaro’s policies that allowed widespread gun ownership. In Brazil as a whole, however, roughly two-thirds of the people oppose these measures.

In the Amazonian heartland state of Amazonas, in contrast, relatively little deforestation has occurred. Here most rural people derive their livelihoods primarily from the natural environment and small-scale horticulture. Such areas strongly supported Lula, who significantly reduced the pace of deforestation when he was president in the early 2000s. As noted in a Guardian article, Amazonian municipalities with large number of indigenous people also voted heavily for Lula, as would be expected.

The Brazilian state that gave the highest percentage of its votes to Bolsonaro (76 percent) is Roraima, located in the northern Amazonian region on the border with Venezuela and Guyana. The natural vegetation of Roraima is a mixture of savannah and rainforest, both of which have seen extensive agricultural conversion. Illegal mining is also widespread – and environmentally destructive. Roraima, the least populated Brazilian state, has seen explosive growth in recent decades, its population rising from 79,000 in 1980 to 631,000 in 2020. As can be seen on the paired maps below, only one municipality in Roraima supported Lula in 2022; not coincidentally, it has an overwhelmingly indigenous population. But the state’s other northern municipalities also have indigenous majorities or pluralities, yet they voted for Bolsonaro.

 

 

The electoral victory of Bolsonaro in the indigenous-majority municipalities of northern Roraima is not easily explained. An interesting graphic in The Guardian notes this oddity (posted above) but offers no explanation. A recent Al Jazeera article reports, unsurprisingly, that indigenous leaders in the state see Bolsonaro as a threat and have strongly supported Lula. The article also claims that the indigenous residents of Roraima have not received any benefits from the mining boom. As the author, writing before the election, notes:

If re-elected with enough support in Congress, Bolsonaro could try to push through his long-planned bill to allow mining and other industrial activities on Indigenous lands. As is the case with many Indigenous territories, official requests from companies to mine in Raposa Serra do Sol, including proposals for both gold and diamond mines, have increased since Bolsonaro took office, according to data compiled by the monitoring group Amazonia Minada and seen by Al Jazeera.

“If Bolsonaro is re-elected, we will see a continuation of anti-Indigenous policies,” Antenor Vaz, a former coordinator with Brazil’s Indigenous agency Funai who now works as an independent consultant, told Al Jazeera. “Raposa Serra do Sol would face even more pressure from illegal gold miners, as well as large landowners from outside the reserve.”

 We thus encounter a mystery: why did most voters in heavily indigenous northern Roraima opt for Bolsonaro? Several possibilities come to mind. In Lula’s stronghold of northeastern Brazil, the 2022 election was marked by voter intimidation and suppression. Even the Federal Highway Police, allied with Bolsonaro, tried to delay or prevent people from reaching the polls. Could similar tactics explain the anomalous voting patterns of northern Roraima? I have seen no evidence of this, but my research has been limited. It is also possible that many indigenous people simply did not participate in the election, although Brazil does have compulsory voting.

It does seem that this apparent mystery deserves investigation by someone who knows more about Brazil, and Roraima, than I do.

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Brazil’s Stark Electoral Divide

In recent elections, Brazil has exhibited a distinct north/south electoral divide, with the north supporting leftwing candidates and the south supporting rightwing candidates. Strictly speaking, this is a more a northeast vs. south & west-center split, as the sparsely populated northwest is itself electorally divided, as is the large center-east state of Minas Gerais (“MG” on the map below). This political division correlates closely with income and human development. As a general rule, the poorer states of Brazil’s northeast support candidates on the left while the richer states of the south support candidates on the right. This pattern can be seen on maps comparing the 2022 election results with those showing per capita GDP by state and the Human Development Index (HDI) by state. Some exceptions exist, such as the relatively poor but right-voting states of Acre (“AC”) and Amapá (“AP”), and relatively wealthy but left-voting Minas Gerais, but the general pattern is clear.

This correlation might seem predictable, but it no longer holds in the United States or over much or Europe, where wealthier regions now tend to vote for the left. Brazil’s north/south divide, moreover, has emerged only in recent elections. In 1989, for example, the leftwing candidate Lula da Silva triumphed in the relatively wealthy southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the prosperous Federal District (Brasilia), while losing most of the impoverished northeast. When Lula finally won the presidency in 2002, he took every state except northeastern Alagoas. Lula’s successful anti-poverty programs subsequently solidified his power across the northeast (with the exception of coastal Alagoas)  In his 2006 reelection, the current latitudinal divide appeared on the Brazilian electoral map. In that contest, the centrist candidate Geraldo Alckmin took most of the south and the center-west. Intriguingly, Alckmin teamed up with Lula to run as his vice-presidential candidate in 2022.

This stark electoral and economic divide has led many observers to worry that there are now “two Brazils” that will not be able to function well together. Lulu is also concerned about this split, which helps explain his partnership with Alckmin. He has also promised to try to heal the division. As Lula recently stated:

“My friends. As of Jan. 1, 2023, I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me. There are not two Brazils. We are a single country, a single people, a great nation,” he said. …

“We will find a way out so that this country can live democratically and harmoniously again,” he said. “No one is interested in living in a divided country, in a permanent state of war.”

State-level mapping, however, is of low-resolution and is therefore often misleading. But if we look at local level, the same correlation between voting behavior and economic development still holds (see the maps below). Here Minas Gerais does not seem exceptional, as its wealthier southwestern areas went for Bolsonaro and its poorer northeastern areas went for Lula. But again, there are other exceptions. Center-west Brazil, for example, is only moderately developed yet voted heavily for Bolsonaro. This seeming oddity will be explored in a later post.

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Brazil’s Lack of a Metropolitan/Hinterland Political Divide

The 2018 and 2022 Brazilian general elections shared some important features with the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. In all cases, a rightwing, populist nationalist won the first contest (Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump respectively) but lost the second, in both instances to an older, politically well established, center-left opponent (Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] and Joseph Biden respectively). But the electoral geographies of the two countries are highly divergent. In the United States, and in much of Europe, parties on the political left now find most of their support in areas of high population density, whereas those of the right find most of their support in areas of low population density. Michael Lind, a hard-to-classify political centrist, has analyzed this new electoral pattern in some detail. As he writes:

On a map of the United States color-coded by party, big cities and university towns and a few regions with large immigrant and racial minority populations are a chain of Democratic islands in a Republican ocean. Similar patterns appear on maps of voting for Brexit in the UK and elections in continental Europe.

Looking at these maps, it is easy to see why scholars and journalists refer to the “urban-rural divide.” But this is misleading. Farm owners and farmworkers make up only a tiny sliver of the population in the typical Western democracy. Most voters in Europe and North America today live in broadly defined metro areas or small communities on their periphery. In the case of partisanship, the most important border is not between city and countryside, but between expensive, high-density urban business districts and inner suburbs on the one hand and, on the other, low-density suburbs and exurbs.

Rather than use the terms “city” and “countryside,” we can describe the high-density areas as “hubs” and the low-density areas around and between the hubs as “heartlands.”

In Brazil, a highly urbanized country, such a density divide is barely visible. As noted in The Guardian:

Lula’s victory had a peculiarity: he won many votes in some of Brazil’s most populated municipalities but also in most of the sparsely populated areas. In the latter, he reached more than 80% of the vote. It was at these two ends that he made the difference. Bolsonaro, instead, did very well in medium-size cities, as shown by the concentration of blue bubbles in the graph below in districts with between 100,000 and 1 million inhabitants.

But as The Guardian’s chart shows, Bolsonaro triumphed in more than half of Brazilian cities with populations of more than one million. As a map from the same article shows, Brazil’s “hubs” do not stand out from their “heartlands” in regard to electoral geography. A Portuguese-language graphic from Nexo shows that Bolsonaro won more than half of the capital cities of Brazil’s states. In the northeastern state of Alagoas, where Lula took 58.7 percent of the vote, Maceió, the capital city and largest urban center, went for Bolsanaro. (Note that in Brazil, as in most of the world, red is used for the political left and blue for the right.)

 

An important exception to this generalization is the city of São Paulo located in the state of the same name. São Paulo is Brazil’s largest city by a wide margin, and São Paulo is Brazil’s most populous state by a wide margin. The state voted solidly for Bolsanaro (55.2 percent), but the city went for Lula by a similar margin. Given the large size of São Paulo city, its votes were critical for carrying Lula to victory.

The same pattern is evident in São Paulo’s 2022 gubernatorial election, which was won by a close ally of Bolsanaro, Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas. As can be seen on the Nexo map posted below, Tarcísio (as he is mononymously called) lost São Paulo city and most of its inner suburbs while winning in most of the rest of the state. But Tarcísio did triumph in several large cities, taking both Campinas (population 1.2 million) and São José dos Campos (population 729,000; metropolitan area, 2.5 million). No U.S. cities of such a size vote for rightwing candidates. The largest to support Donald Trump in 2020 was Oklahoma City, with a population of 681,000 and a metropolitan area of 1.4 million.

We will examine other aspects of Brazil’s electoral geography in later posts

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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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