Who Gets Excited about Elections?

Sameness, low-level promises challenge coverage

Due to the social isolation imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, people expected that televised debates could compete with the social networks for voters' attention in the absence of street campaigns.

After the first São Paulo mayoral debate, televised by Band on Thursday night (1st), now the question is why continue to produce the debates.

They follow an old format. Their result oscillates between the caricature and the dull, as happened in the clash between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the US presidential candidates, on Tuesday (29).

The feeling is that we are wasting our time with old formulas. In addition to the memes available on social media, how will these debates affect voter decisions? If the metric is the candidate's social media networks, the result is negligible.

With 15.8 million followers in their official profiles, the 11 candidates who participated in the debate in São Paulo won only 13,509 new fans by the end of the afternoon the day after the debate: 7,896 by Guilherme Boulos (PSOL), and 25 by Mayor Bruno Covas (PSDB). Respecting the differences across the country, the numbers show the low appeal of this type of attraction - an analog model for a digital audience -, according to the data analysis company Bites.

In Folha's case, readers made little use of the ombudsman to comment on the initial coverage of the election, which should change in the coming weeks.

The newspaper started to follow the race and gender issues in the election with the magnifying glass. It recently decided to provide election cover of another city just as closely as São Paulo: Jaboticabal.

Despite the weirdness ("Has my subscription been transferred to this municipality and I don't know?", Asked a reader), the idea of bringing a small-town public campaign story to a big city is good.

The current financial difficulties in journalism have prevented newspapers from covering the politics of more cities. A reader even provoked a question in relation to another interesting proposal from the newspaper (to address crucial issues in the 50 American states, a project that started 50 days before that country): "Will Folha cover 50 neighborhoods in São Paulo too?".

Even so, a partnership between the newspaper and Agência Mural has already produced a good compilation of what the peripheral communities thought about the first debate for the capital's City Hall.

Folha has also been reporting on the presence of black candidates in the election, and even more relevant topic at a time when the debate on plurality in politics is gaining momentum and in which the Supreme Court makes the most application for immediate financial quota for blacks and browns.

One of the better articles showed that at least 21,000 candidates (or 8% of the candidates) changed their color declaration for this year's election. Most of the changes (36% of the total) were white to brown, which means that the flow was due to quotas' approval.

However, the text says that another 30% of those who changed the color jumped from brown to white, something superficially explained.

"It would be essential to say what is happening because we also interpret the text in terms of what is not said," said a reader. "Without explaining the reasons for the changes in each of the responses, the number is loose, something that seems to have been done in the name of an alleged denunciation of false registrations, which is not confirmed", says another reader.

Pay attention to preconceived theses, readers tell Folha.

As for the debates, the digital influencer Felipe Neto suggested that fact-checking agencies be present in live monitoring of the candidates' speeches, exposing lies and inaccuracies. I don't know if the idea is feasible, but it looks good.

It is a cliché to point this out, but the fact is that there seems to be little involvement in the election. In this climate, the beginning of coverage gives signs that the newspaper is ready to leave the sameness - which must be done, obviously, without forgetting previous mistakes.

The then ombudsman Suzana Singer already warned in 2012 that the Power's pages turned to statements about the "anti-homophobia kit" - mistakenly called "gay kit", as highlighted by Singer -, being necessary to avoid the trick of reproducing something thought for to confuse.

In times when the game between candidates on digital platforms promises to be rough (let's not forget 2018) and when disinformation spares no one, journalism must think of new ways to help voters in their decision-making process, avoiding worn-out formulas contextualizing promises and avoiding the low level that will certainly show your face.

Flavia Lima
Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon