October 24, 2018
Written by WID.world

Brazil Divided: Hindsights on the Growing Politicization of Inequality (WID.world Issue Brief 2018/3)

In the third issue brief released by the World Inequality Lab, Amory Gethin and Marc Morgan combine inequality statistics and opinion polls to contextualize the rise of Jair Bolsonaro and the extreme polarisation visible in the 2018 Brazilian presidential election.

The political polarisation surrounding the 2018 Brazilian presidential election can be associated to class cleavages linked to the Workers’ Party’s policies in directly improving the living conditions of the poor, and indirectly benefiting elites, largely to the neglect of the middle class. The poorest 50% in the income distribution have been increasingly more likely to vote for the PT and other left-of-centre parties since 2002 compared to the richest 10%. This striking evolution occurred in a context of strong income growth for the bottom deciles (almost twice the national average), compared to the lower-than-average-growth for the upper-middle class. The richest percentiles also benefited from stronger-than average growth during the high-growth phase of the 2000s.

The rise of class cleavages in Brazil, 1989-2018

The difference between the rich and the poor is that the former’s recent voting intentions seem to be more motivated by “luxury” concerns about corruption, security and education, than employment or health issues, which are more often cited by members of the Bottom 50%. The Bolsonaro vote has gathered those who are disappointed with the political system’s corruption and complacency for security issues, as well as those who are appeased by the candidate’s liberal economic program. In Europe or the United States, the increasing support for “populist” far-right movements has often been attributed to individuals with lower levels of education and income. In Brazil, on the contrary, Bolsonaro has attracted greater proportional approval from the country’s high-education and business elites.

Reasons determining candidate choice by income group