5 mars 2021
Ecrit par WID.world

Politicization of Inequality in Brazil

Democracy and the Politicization of Inequality in Brazil, 1989-2018


In this paperAmory Gethin and Marc Morgan analyse the transformation of electoral cleavages in Brazil since 1989 using a novel assembly of electoral surveys. Brazilian political history since redemocratization is largely a history of the rise and fall of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT). The authors show that the election of Lula da Silva as President in 2002, followed by the implementation of redistributive policies by successive PT governments, was at the origin of marked socioeconomic cleavages. In sharp contrast to other western democracies, political conflict in Brazil has therefore followed an increasingly unidimensional class-based path, which culminated in the unification of elites and large parts of the middle class behind Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential election.


Key findings


  • The rise of the PT since the 1990s was associated with the emergence of strong class cleavages in Brazil, with low-income, lower-educated voters increasingly supporting the Workers’ Party.
  • These class cleavages have an important regional component: controlling for a host of socio-demographic factors, a voter in the Northeast was 20 percentage points more likely to vote for the PT in 2018 than voters in other regions, compared to being 5 percentage points less likely to do so in 1989.
  • The rise of class divides in Brazil responded to developments in the growth of relative incomes and in the access to specific services across the distribution, which favored the most disadvantaged classes and culminated in the unification of elites and large parts of the middle class behind Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential election.
  • Part of these divides can be explained by diverging policy priorities by social class, with lower-income groups emphasizing employment and health issues, while middle and upper classes give higher priority to corruption and security.


Figure: The PT vote among primary-educated voters


Democracy and the Politicization of Inequality in Brazil, World Inequality Lab

This figure shows the difference between the share of primary-educated voters voting PT and the share of other voters voting PT in the second round of presidential elections.




Media inquiries

Olivia Ronsain: olivia.ronsain@wid.world; +33 7 63 91 81 68


The authors thank Gedeão Locks, Clara Martínez-Toledano, Thomas Piketty, and Thiago Scarelli for helpful comments.