Bolsonaro's Resilience

Government-friendly figures are the most intriguing aspect of Datafolha research

The headline of the print edition of Folha on Wednesday (17) reported that Jair Bolsonaro’s approval rating in the management of the pandemic had reached its lowest mark since the crisis began.

According to Datafolha, 54% see the president's role in managing the crisis as bad or very bad - an increase of six percentage points in relation to the last survey in January.

In addition to crisis management, the survey also assessed the president's leadership capacity (56% think Bolsonaro is unable to lead the country), and the general government assessment, seen as bad or terrible by 44%.

For some readers, other numbers attracted their attention: "Wow, I made a big mistake! I always thought that the disfavor of this man, particularly concerning the pandemic, was much higher," said one of them. "Will it be that when we reach 400,000 dead, the approval will drop a little more?" Asked another reader sarcastically.

The newspaper chose an angle in the analysis of the data that shed light on what appears to be a trend: the increased disapproval of the president in managing the pandemic by 12 percentage points since December.

But what about the 46% who see his crisis management as excellent, good, or regular? Or the solid 30% that approve of the government?

Perhaps the actual news is Bolsonaro's resilience, who at the height of the health crisis is seen as capable of leading the country by 42% of Brazilians (about half of men, residents of the South and evangelicals, in addition to 70% of entrepreneurs). The news of the week justifies the consideration.

The research was carried out between Monday (15) and Tuesday (16). On those days, the front pages of Folha showed that, since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 72 thousand people had died from Covid-19 without having access to an ICU bed, that vaccination had only reached about 30% of the people in the priority groups, and that the country would have its fourth Minister of Health in 12 months.

They also reported the breach of confidentiality of people linked to Senator Flávio Bolsonaro. Evidence revealed, according to UOL, that the alleged corruption scheme occurred in the offices of Jair Bolsonaro (when he was a federal representative) and Carlos Bolsonaro.

In the face of this scenario, it is legitimate to argue that the highlight in the last Datafolha could have been the numbers favorable to the government and the president.

José Henrique Mariante, assistant secretary of the editorial staff, says that the news that was needed was the general worsening in Bolsonaro's assessment, not only in terms of popularity, which equates to the worst index in his government, but in the management of the crisis.

"In addition, 43% of those surveyed pointed to the president as the biggest culprit for the current situation, by far the highest index in comparison with others possibly responsible. To escape from these facts would be to fight with the news," he says. Still, Mariante believes the resilience of the segment that supports Bolsonaro has been addressed in published reports and opinion pieces.

Though, perhaps not with the depth it deserves. Knowing that the Datafolha numbers come at a time when the pandemic and the economic expectations of the population are at their worst, published between Friday (19) and Saturday (20), it becomes even more challenging to understand Bolsonaro's resilience—and more urgent to explain it.

According to the survey, 65% of Brazilians say that the country's economic situation will worsen, and only 14% expect an improvement in their own economic situation. Almost 80% say that unemployment will rise in the coming months, and 77% think inflation will, too.

According to an article by Folha on Saturday, the country even managed to plummet in the global ranking of happiness (20).

If 79% believe that the pandemic is out of control and 65% say that the economic situation will worsen (pessimism that, curiously, is greater in the South, a region with higher approval ratings for Bolsonaro), why do 54% evaluate their own government as great, good or regular?

The resilience of the president's assessment clashes with the deterioration of sanitary and economic expectations, in addition to challenging the general understanding of what the responsibilities of the highest authority in the Republic are.

Even in the midst of so much pessimism, less than 50% disapprove of the government (44%), and half do not want his impeachment. There must be something more to be said about the phenomenon.

At the moment, the situation is macabre: 1 out of every 4 killed by Covid-19 in the world is Brazilian. In the coming weeks, we will return to minimal emergency aid and the continuity of a situation of great uncertainty about the rate of vaccination.

By emphasizing the high failure rate in the management of the pandemic and not the resilience of President Bolsonaro, the newspaper left the most intriguing aspect of the numbers in the background. The profusion of data allows for a good analysis for Folha's coverage, which needs to be well-executed and not confused by wishfulness or spin.

Flavia Lima: A 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