Brazil election: Evangelical Christians could be key to victory
Created: 09/29/2022, 15:47
By: Lisa Kuner
Walk with God: President Bolsonaro (left) listens to a sermon by Pastor Silas Malafaia at a celebration of his birthday in Rio de Janeiro.
© Mauro Pimentel/afp
More than 30 percent of all Brazilians belong to evangelical churches.
Four years ago, they overwhelmingly supported President Bolsonaro.
This year, their votes are particularly competitive.
Rio de Janeiro – “Brazil above all and God above all”: The current President Jair Bolsonaro ran with this election slogan four years ago – and was successful.
The majority of Christians in Brazil voted for him, and he particularly picked up the evangelical followers of the so-called Pentecostal churches.
70 percent of evangelicals voted for Bolsonaro in the 2018 election.
The next presidential elections are now coming up in Brazil – on Sunday (October 2nd) the citizens of Latin America's largest democracy will decide who will lead the country over the next four years.
Ex-President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva is taking on current President Jair Bolsonaro.
Lula is ahead in the latest polls.
However, the election campaign is extremely polarized and charged.
Brazilian Christians are a particularly hard-fought group of voters.
They are divided into Evangelicals and Catholics.
The majority of Catholics support Lula.
Brazil election: Churches exert political influence
The opinion of evangelicals is more difficult to assess.
More than 30 percent of Brazilians belong to an evangelical faith community, and the trend is rising.
Many scholars assume that evangelicals will become a majority in Brazil in the coming decade.
Most evangelical churches in the country are so-called Pentecostal churches, in which the Holy Spirit plays a special role.
Politics is part of many services, and many priests clearly express their political support for one side or the other.
"Traditionally, the Catholic Church in particular had political influence," explains Jaqueline Moraes Teixeira of the
She is an anthropologist at the University of Brasília and has been researching evangelicals in the country for more than a decade.
"Since the early 1980s, the evangelical congregations have also structurally expanded their political power."
Bolsonaro and Lula: Both are looking for proximity to the church
According to Jaqueline Moraes Teixeira, Evangelical faith communities have tried to achieve better representation in the political system at various points.
This was not only achieved under Bolsonaro. This political project was already visible in Lula's first two terms of office and under the government of Dilma Rousseff, and these two presidents also repeatedly sought proximity to the Pentecostal churches.
In 2018, under Jair Bolsonaro, the Bancada Evangélica (roughly the Coalition of Evangelicals) in the Brazilian legislature reached its all-time high.
More than 100 members of parliament and around 15 senators consider themselves Evangelicals, together they have around 20 percent of the votes in parliament.
"Under Bolsonaro, the Evangelicals were also able to fill many important key positions," explains Teixeira.
"Your political function has expanded from the legislature to the executive".
The most important example of this is certainly the former women's and family minister, Damares Alves.
From 2019 to 2022, as Minister, she took an extremely conservative course.
For example, she campaigned against the so-called “gender ideology” and made anti-abortion sentiment.
She left office in late May 2022 to run for the Senate.
Brazil election: Evangelical leaders want to expand their power
The influence of Evangelicals in the field of education is also important, says expert Teixeira.
She particularly mentions the name of Pastor Milton Ribeiro, who has been responsible for executive projects in the Ministry of Education in recent years.
There he campaigned against sex education in schools, for example, and he is currently being investigated for corruption.
Even more important than the concrete programs of evangelical politicians is that many evangelical leaders have now achieved national visibility and prominence.
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In the current election campaign, evangelical leaders are trying to further expand their political power.
Several evangelical supporters of Bolsonaro stand for election as federal deputies or senators.
But there is also evangelical support on Lula's side: for example, the liberal priest Henrique Vieira from Niterói near Rio de Janeiro is standing for the left-wing Party of Socialism or Freedom (PSOL).
A total of 640 candidates with a clearly religious agenda are up for election this year.
Election campaign for believers: "You decide the elections"
With the October 2 presidential election approaching, both Lula and Bolsonaro are now campaigning heavily for evangelical support.
The expert Teixeira also knows why: "You decide the elections," she says.
If the majority of evangelicals vote for Lula, he might win on the first ballot.
If, on the other hand, the majority votes for Bolsonaro, a second ballot and an even bigger political mud fight is likely.
The struggle for the votes of the faithful has already taken on remarkable excesses.
Bolsonaro celebrated at the birthday of the priest Silas Malafaia.
For a while, misinformation circulated that Lula wanted to shut down churches.
But the other side is also bringing out the heavy artillery: Lula's Labor Party (Partido Trabalhador, PT for short) recently printed posters with the slogan "Bolsonaro uses God, God uses Lula".
And Lula said Bolsonaro was possessed by a demon.
Brazil: Bolsonaro has lost trust among evangelicals
It is still unclear who the majority of Evangelicals will vote for this year.
Bolsonaro could still count on their support four years ago, but he has lost a lot of trust in recent years.
"This constituency is much more competitive now," says Teixeira.
In order to better understand the voting behavior of Evangelicals, it is also important to look at their demographic composition, says the scientist.
Around 60 percent of the followers of evangelical churches are women, most of them live on a household income of up to 1,500 reais (around 300 euros) and are black.
"This is actually a non-political audience," explains Teixeira.
For many people, the extent to which they can benefit economically from public policy is more important than their political orientation.
Election 2018: many Brazilians are worse off today
Bolsonaro has disappointed here in recent years – most Brazilians are doing much worse than four years ago.
On the one hand, this has financial aspects, but the wounds of the pandemic also run deep in Brazil.
Almost everyone in the country has lost someone to the coronavirus.
"The way Bolsonaro talked about the virus and its victims pissed off many believers," says Teixeira.
All of this speaks against unconditional support for the President.
Bolsonaro's campaign team has therefore launched a counteroffensive.
Michelle Bolsonaro, the current and third wife of the President, is now increasingly appearing in the election campaign.
She is also evangelical and is supposed to win back the lost trust, especially among the believing women.
How well this ultimately works is an open question.