Evangelicals: the vote that will decide Bolsonaro's victory

Polls show that voters who define themselves as Evangelicals will overwhelmingly vote for right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

They were still a minority by the end of the twentieth century; now they represent 29% of the almost 208.5 million Brazilians and should outweigh Catholics by 2040. We are talking about Evangelicals, a term that covers a large diversity of religious denominations and whose political influence has been steadily expanding over the past 20 years.

Evangelicals have been represented in Congress since the 1986 Constituent Assembly. In the recent elections for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, Evangelicals elected 180 (out of 513 seats) and 8 candidates (out of 81 seats), respectively. In addition to several political parties specifically associated with certain Evangelical denominations, almost every party has Evangelical MPs in their ranks, from right to left, from the PT to the PSDB, from the PSOL and the PSB to the MDB.

The distinctive feature is that they are usually aligned with conservative positions. However, as political scientist Ana Carolina Evangelista pointed out in a Folha de S. Paulo article (August 3, 2018), there are some "organized groups with a progressive agenda" (although they are a "minority and less publicly recognized") reflecting the concerns of the "younger Evangelical population," such as the Evangelical Front for the Legalization of Abortion.

This reality - as well as the voting behavior of those who identify with Evangelical candidates, which may prove to be a decisive factor in the presidential election runoff on October 28 - is clearly reflected in a Datafolha poll published on October 10. The poll shows that 6 out of 10 voters who declare to be Evangelical prefer Jair Bolsonaro, while only 3 say they will vote for Fernando Haddad. In other words, if it depended only on this segment, Bolsonaro would win the elections with more than 60% of the votes, while Haddad would score just over 25%.

The same poll shows that Bolsonaro would win the election with 49% of the votes in a universe comprised of atheists and voters of all religions. In this universe, Haddad would get 36%.

Bolsonaro's results are even more impressive if we only take valid votes into account - that is, by excluding undecided voters and blank or void ballots. In this universe, Bolsonaro scores 70% and Haddad gets 30%.

The Datafolha poll shows that Bolsonaro is the favorite candidate among voters of all Evangelical denominations - always clearly above 50%. The candidate, who claimed to be Catholic, was baptized by an Evangelical pastor in 2016, in the Jordan River, on the same day former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached by the Senate.

The Datafolha poll shows that Bolsonaro is also the favorite candidate among Catholic voters, securing 46% of voting intentions, but with a much smaller lead over Haddad, who scores 40%.

A second poll, published on October 18, confirms the scenario of Bolsonaro victory. Bolsonaro will win with 59% and Haddad will have 41% of the votes.

Bolsonaro will have more 70% of the Evangelical vote

In terms of religious vote, Bolsonaro is also ahead in both Catholic and Evangelical voters, with figures similar to the October 10 poll: 54%-46% in the Catholic vote and 71%-29% in the Evangelical vote.

The weight of Evangelical voting reflects a religious change that has been taking place all over Brazil, especially in the past 20 years, and which is particularly evident in the so-called Greater ABC area - a region in the state of São Paulo which comprises the cities of Santo André (A), São Bernardo do Campo (B) and S. Caetano do Sul (C), and where the proportion of Catholics and Evangelicals has changed dramatically over the past five decades.

In the early 1960s, out of 499,398 residents, 90.7% declared to be Catholic; in 2010, out of 2.5 million people, only 56.5% defined themselves as Catholic. In 2016, with a population of 2.7 million, figures had sunk to 46.8%.

The reasons for this change lie in "the deinstitutionalization of religions all over the world," says Lauri Emilio Wirth, a professor of Religious Studies at the Methodist University (Diário do Grande ABC, December 8, 2016). And in the specific case of Brazil, according to Lidice Meyer Pinto Ribeiro (Mackenzie Presbyterian University), such changes are due to the distance of the Catholic Church. "There's also a need for community engagement, a church must be involved in the neighborhood," the researcher points out. Interviewed by the Brazilian edition of El País on December 4, 2017, sociologist Maria das Dores Campos Machado concurs. Brazil is plagued by "enormous economic inequality and an almost absent State in urban peripheries, where public services are extremely unsatisfactory. This is particularly clear when it comes to health and social assistance." Thus, "a population which is largely deprived of material goods and urban equipment" and which "has nowhere to turn in case of difficulty" perceives Evangelical churches as "a support structure and as the possibility of building a social community." Based on optimism and on assistance in the face of financial or health difficulties, the message of Evangelical churches is, according to Campos, a powerful mobilization and indoctrination tool.

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