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Of Brazilian discontent, the World Cup, and presidential elections
June 13, 2014, 7:24 am

Will the 2014 World Cup in Brazil be the stage for a surge of protest movements as most, particularly the government fear? Nobody can tell for sure. The June 2013 mass protests that created a climate of stress at the Confederations’Cup and led to a downwards trend on presidential popularity were unprecedented and unpredicted. This spontaneous outbreak of discontent, often amplified through mobile communications and social networks, elude the explanations sociologists and political scientists have for mass rallies, riots and other forms of public demonstrations of dissatisfaction all over the world.

Soccer fans celebrate the second goal scored by Brazil striker Neymar, during a live broadcast at a World Cup viewing party at the Jockey Club, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014 [AP]

Soccer fans celebrate the second goal scored by Brazil striker Neymar, during a live broadcast at a World Cup viewing party at the Jockey Club, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014 [AP]

There is, however, one important thing we do know about the recent movements in Brazil. In 2014, none of the demonstrations that have occupied the streets of several cities so far were similar to those of June 2013. Their DNA is very different. Last year protests were spontaneous, had no dominant leadership, nor any leading organization steering the mass. There were politically organized groups that joined the mobilizations, and tried to use them to their own purposes. But when these politically identifiable groups started to prevail, the movements waned, and the people that gained the streets spontaneously went back home.

The protest movements of 2014 are associated with strikes of public servants, particularly teachers and health care professionals, and employees of public concessions of urban transportation services. They have had a clear, and identified leadership: dissident leaders from the unions. They represented discontent with the unions’official leadership, often identified as co-opted by government favors, as well as with the city, state, and federal governments. They were opportunistic, seeing the proximity of the World Cup as an opportunity to get greater visibility and to increase the likelihood that their demands would be met more promptly. As indeed they have been.

The dissatisfied new middle class in Brazil

The street protests of June 2013 were heterogeneous, multi-class, although with some predominance of lower and upper-lower middle strata. They mixed people from the gentry neighborhoods as well as people from the urban peripheries. They spread very rapidly due to the new networking possibilities created by mobile technologies. Too fast urbanization with too little planning for the provision of quality basic services resulted in poor housing, sanitation, transportation, health care, and education. Discontent is to a large extent a response to the stress and hardships of deteriorating urban living.

A second element, common to all these different forms of urban protest, is that violence from the police increases discontent and strengthens the movements. Contrariwise, violence from within the protests, breaking windows and depredating public works and private buildings, weakens the movements and reduces their popular support.

This lack of quality in urban living and infrastructure is particularly felt by the newly emerging Brazilian lower middle classes, that have gained access to higher quality, and even luxury consumption goods, but continue to live in poorly served neighborhoods. Social mobility was not accompanied by better urban mobility, nor better health care or quality of education. This year, dissatisfaction has increased with the loss of momentum in the consumption power of the newer middle classes, and budget constraints due to excessive indebtedness and rising inflation.

The irony of football-crazy Brazil rejecting the World Cup

 A protester walks by a graffiti that reads in Portuguese "the Cup bleeds," during a demonstration against the 2014 World Cup in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Thursday, June, 12, 2014 [AP Images]

A protester walks by a graffiti that reads in Portuguese “the Cup bleeds,” during a demonstration against the 2014 World Cup in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Thursday, June, 12, 2014 [AP]

People are also critical of the enormous public expenditure on the infrastructure for the World Cup, while the government claimed lack of money to invest in health, education, and public safety; all have been manifest reasons for the unprecedented street protests. Last Wednesday president Dilma Rousseff used a mandatory all channels TV and radio network to explain that expenditures were not that high and emphasize the gains of hosting the World Cup.

The causes of discontent remain in place, the investment in infrastructure for the World Cup have not been translated into visible gains for the population. That is why the Federal government is so concerned with the possibility of protest movements breaking on the capital cities where the World Football Cup, that opened Thursday, will be played.

The massive protests during the Confederations’ Cup, as the one outside the Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro, considered to be the Brazilian temple of football, are what they fear most. For the first time ever, Brazilians were protesting and trying to stop a football championship. One that the Brazilian team ended up winning. This demonstration of bad humor to the point of rejecting football, the country’s undisputed sports passion, was truly unprecedented.

The Brazilian mood and Rousseffs ratings

The Brazilian social climate continues to be one of unprecedented pessimism, dissatisfaction, and disapproval of the governments’performance. President Dilma’s Rousseff approval rating has reached a new low at a recent IBOPE poll issued last Tuesday. The percentage of people saying that her performance is very bad or bad is greater than the percentage of those saying her performance is very good or good, for the first time since she took office, (35% vs 31%). Last May, 33% considered her government very bad or bad, and 35% very good or good. Moreover, the percentage of disapproval is now four points higher than on June 2013, when her approval ratings were badly hit by the June street protests. And the percentage of those approving the government last year was at 37%, six points above the figures for this June.

A Pew Research Center survey has indicated that Brazilians are discontented with everything and some more. An unprecedented 72% are dissatisfied with things in Brazil today; 67% are dissatisfied with the current economic situation; and 61% said that the World Cup is bad for Brazil. These figures point to an environment prone to outbursts of protest and discontent. But they do not ensure that the type of surges that happened last year will happen again.

It is also an environment hostile to an incumbent seeking reelection later this year. According with the last IBOPE poll, president Dilma Rousseff’s vote intention has dropped from 40% to 38%, while those for social-democrat opposition candidate senator Aécio Neves, has increased from 20% to 22%, and those for socialist opposition candidate and former governor of the state of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos, increased from 11% to 13%. The results point to a runoff at the end of October. Runoff simulations show that the distance between president Dilma Rousseff and senator Aécio has dropped from 19 percentage points to 9 points. The simulation confronting president Rousseff and former governor Campos, has dropped from 20 to 11 points. It is too early, however, to say anything about vote intentions. The official campaign will only start on August 19th. If these trends remain in place, president Dilma Rousseff’s head start could shrink further, leading to a very hard fought election, and a very close runoff.

Meanwhile, in the BRICS

In India, a similar climate of discontent led to the election of Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP, to gain the majority in Parliament. The demise of the seemingly unbeatable Congress Party pointed to a shift to the right, and greater influence of religion on political governance. In South Africa, discontent has reduced the National Party’s vote share from 66% to 62%, and increased support for the opposition to 29%. President Zuma has won reelection easily, though.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, right, talks with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014 [AP]

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, right, talks with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014 [AP]

In Brazil an outcome similar to India’s would be highly unlikely. All contestants are from the center right to the left. The influence of religion is also negligible. The scenario of political change in Brazil would, however, depend not only on Rousseff’s disapproval, but also on one of the opposition candidates to be able to persuade a majority of voters he can fix all major sources of widespread discontent.

The political environment is pointing towards a wave of change. Popular support for the Worker’s Party (PT) has declined to an all times low. But no party has gained support. The unions that used to widely support the Worker’s Party are now divided. Public servants, an important source of support for PT and the government, are showing widespread dissatisfaction with both. There is an outcry for change. All polls are showing this demand for something new. But so far no political force has persuaded voters to be able to fulfill this demand.

A scenario in which an opposition leader succeeds in catalyzing discontent, president Rousseff’s reelection would be at risk, and a new correlation of forces might come out of the elections, changing the balance of power, particularly in the lower chamber and in the state governments. At this early stage of the electoral game, however, none of the opposition candidates have been able to assume this position of a game changer. The number of undecided voters and those showing a propensity to abstain is still very large. Voters, it appears, will choose their candidates at a later stage of the campaign, perhaps very close to election day.

The name of the game, this month, however is not election, but football, and this game is also full of uncertainties and stress both within and outside the stadiums.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

One Response to Of Brazilian discontent, the World Cup, and presidential elections

  1. CKLING Reply

    June 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    ALL RIOTS IN BRAZIL HAVE BEEN ORGANIZED BY CIA.THEY ARE IN ENGLISH!How many millions might the CIA be spending on propaganda AGAINST DILMA, using people with posh American accents?
    !Joe Biden was in Brazil at the end of May 2013, preparing the way for the CIA riots AND CLINTON TOO!

    Brazil’s economy is now the world’s sixth largest, thanks to the current government THAT BREDUCED BRAZILS DEBT!!!36 millions of Poverty has been greatly reduced by the current government.”In more than a decade of PT rule, 40m people have risen to the lower middle class, millions more are studying at tertiary institutions while unemployment has fallen to record lows. The former poor are turning their attention beyond mere survival to quality of life.”The CIA vs China oil grab in all of South and Central America!

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