BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — If Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is to have any hope of securing a second term, he needs more female support, and fast. However, a man famous for his macho bravado has shown no concerted strategy to do so.
With the election just three months away, some polls show that only one in five women will vote for the tough-talking, pro-gun, motorcycle-riding ex-army captain. If that is true on October 2, Bolsonaro could lose outright to his nemesis, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, without the need for a second round. Nearly half of Brazilian women say they will vote for the president’s opponent.
More than half of the women surveyed say they would never vote for the far-right leader, regardless of social class, which has been a traditional indicator of voting preferences.
Polling expert Antonio Lavareda said Bolsonaro has no chance of winning unless he can win over more women. “There is a great rejection between them. Even among those who have not yet made his choice, he is less likely to be his choice,” he said in a telephone interview.
It’s a long way from 2018. Days before the once-fringe lawmaker’s victory four years ago, polls showed women roughly evenly split between Bolsonaro and his leftist adversary, a former Sao Paulo mayor. That despite Bolsonaro’s joke that he had fathered a daughter in a moment of weakness and his comment to a fellow legislator, she was too ugly to be raped. Many women, especially those from higher social classes, supported his campaign.
Since then, Bolsonaro has hemorrhaged female support. That is due in part to his handling of the pandemic and his insistence on sowing doubts about the vaccine efficacy, even strongly opposing its use among children, said Esther Solano, a sociologist at the Federal University of Sao Paulo. The president remains unvaccinated against COVID-19, and a country with a proud tradition of successful vaccination campaigns recorded the second-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world.
“Women are always struck by the idea of care, because it is the woman who cares. The fact that Bolsonaro did not take care of people during the pandemic had a much more negative impact among the female population,” said Solano, who conducted a survey of likely Bolsonaro voters.
More broadly, he said, four years of Bolsonaro’s “aggressive tone” has diminished his support.
“It shows a kind of masculinity that is very toxic, very strong, very violent. Just as there are men who have been fascinated by this type of masculinity, of the aggressive man who speaks in a politically incorrect way, who is intolerant, who shows a certain strength, many women feel attacked by this, ”he added.
Bolsonaro has also been blamed for the fastest inflation in almost two decadesjust like other headlines around the world.
Geisa Rodrigues dos Santos lives in a low-income community in Rio de Janeiro and relies heavily on social programs to feed her three children. Brazil’s generous pandemic welfare program was cut, and the housecleaner now longs for the da Silva administration, which produced an emerging middle class from 2003 to 2010. She didn’t vote in 2018, but now she intends to vote for da Silva. , known universally in Brazil as Lula.
“Back then, in the pandemic, the brochures worked. They saved a lot of mothers,” said dos Santos, 35. “Now, I spend these 400 reais ($77) in the supermarket and inflation eats up a large part of it. During the Lula days, we ate.”
There is an acknowledgment within the Bolsonaro camp of his disadvantage among women, as well as hope that he can win over many of the roughly one-third of women who, according to polls, remain undecided. What does not exist is agreement on how to adjust the course.
Analysts have speculated that Bolsonaro’s campaign could include his wife Michelle, 40, in public appearances and television ads. A nearly clothed evangelical Christian, she speaks fluent sign language and embodies the housewife who can smooth over Bolsonaro’s rough edges and attract potential female voters, Solano said.
The first lady had been scheduled to record television announcements earlier this month, but it did not happen, according to two of Bolsonaro’s ministers and two senators who are close advisers to the president. They told The Associated Press the ads were scrapped because the president’s sons of lawmakers are divided on which course he should take: double down on his 2018 strategy of inflammatory language or tone down his brashness as a means of outreach. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about campaign strategy.
Allies have also urged Bolsonaro to choose a running mate, such as Tereza Cristina, his former agriculture minister, according to the same four officials. Instead, he has said that he will choose a military partner, General Walter Braga Netto, an adviser to the president. He could still change his mind before the August deadline, though that seems increasingly unlikely, his allies told the AP.
Cristina was one of only three female cabinet ministers during Bolsonaro’s first three years in office, compared to more than 20 men. After she and other ministers resigned this year so they could run for other posts, Bolsonaro’s picks for replacements left only one woman in the cabinet.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that he does not believe in polls, arguing that his voters do not respond to polls.
His direct attempts to reach female voters have been hesitant. She said on International Women’s Day in March that women “are basically integrated into society” and on April 12 she said her administration has done 63 things for them, without specifying what they were. The presidential palace did not respond to repeated emails from AP asking for details of those actions.
Meanwhile, some women who were once potential voters for Bolsonaro are now actively working to oust him.
Rosângela Lyra, a former Christian Dior executive in Brazil, surprised her friends when she began rallying support for da Silva after backing prosecutors whose corruption investigations had landed him in prison. Brazil’s highest court ruled last year that the judge had been biased and overturned da Silva’s convictions.
“The main reason for my campaign is President Jair Bolsonaro. It shouldn’t go on,” Lyra told the AP in the lobby of her apartment in a posh Sao Paulo neighborhood. She runs Politica Viva, an activist group with nearly 3,000 members, most of them women. Although she said that she did not vote for Bolsonaro in 2018, she believed that she could grow in office.
“I was hoping he would think better, have access to other information, become more human. But that didn’t happen,” Lyra said. “People can see now that he is incompetent and inhuman. His handling of the pandemic, the corruption in his administration, the vigilantism he supports. we can’t keep you your institutional risk for another four years and become a right-wing dictatorship.”
Lavareda said few things have hurt Bolsonaro more among women than his crusade to loosen gun restrictions. When she campaigned in 2018, widespread access to guns for civilians was part of her pitch to help curb homicides that hit a 10-year high the year before.
Claudianne Silva, a Sao Paulo supermarket cashier who had just lost a nephew to gun violence, believed the new president should be tough on crime and corruption.
This time, however, he feels that Bolsonaro did not deliver and will vote for da Silva.
“I voted for Bolsonaro because I was angry with everyone, but now I am so angry with him that I will vote for the person he hates the most,” said Silva, 47. “It’s not that he thinks Lula will do much better. . Times are different now. But I want Bolsonaro out.”
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.
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