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Political parties, strongmen and populism: Why Jair Bolsonaro won the 2018 Brazilian election

The election of Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil in 2018 is an example of the recent global phenomenon of election victories by right-wing populist leaders, such as Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, and Viktor Orbán. However, Bolsonaro’s election victory was driven by a range of critical domestic factors, not just by populism. This thesis explains how the nature of Brazil’s political parties and electoral system contributed to Bolsonaro’s victory. Bolsonaro was the candidate of a minor party, the Social Liberal Party (PSL), and exploited weaknesses in two major parties, the Workers Party (PT) and the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), who won Brazil’s elections from 1994 to 2014. Brazil’s two-round system enabled Bolsonaro to consolidate the support of a broad coalition of voters frustrated with PT rule and the traditional opposition. Bolsonaro also campaigned as a change candidate and as a pro-military strongman, rather than as a conventional politician reliant on the support of a political party organization. He appealed to voters dissatisfied with former governments, constant corruption scandals, and economic turmoil. Bolsonaro’s victory is consistent with José Nun’s argument that the middle classes support democracy in good economic times but accept authoritarian options when they start struggling. Bolsonaro successfully used a style of exclusionary populism in his election campaign, to gain media attention and voter support. Nevertheless, populism was a communication method and campaign tactic, and not the fundamental basis of Bolsonaro’s unexpected election as president.
Type of thesis
Tait, P. J. (2020). Political parties, strongmen and populism: Why Jair Bolsonaro won the 2018 Brazilian election (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13769
The University of Waikato
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