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Brazil’s paradox: the country progresses but Lula’s government falls in the polls

A crucial test to gauge the challenges facing the current administration will be the upcoming municipal elections in October

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Lula da Silva greets women at a recent event.Ueslei Marcelino (REUTERS)
Juan Arias

Political analysts of all stripes are scrambling to understand the paradox in Brazil. While every major economic indicator is improving, President Lula’s administration is slipping in opinion polls. In recent polls by Genial, Quaest, Atlas and Ipec, Lula’s declining popularity is clear. The Quaest survey shows the narrowest gap between approval and disapproval in its history, and the Ipec survey shows a steadily rising disapproval rating.

Another warning sign is that the government’s approval rating is dropping for the first time among strong Lula supporters like women, young people, and the poorest Brazilians, despite ongoing social improvements. Why is this happening? National editorials and social media suggest Lula’s waning popularity is tied to issues like public security, political corruption, out-of-control spending and foreign policy. Approval on these issues among former Lula voters plummeted from 76% to 43%. Simultaneously, societal divisions have increased from 64% to 83% since Lula was elected, according to the Quaest survey.

The government’s disapproval ratings seem even more puzzling in the context of international relations, especially given Lula’s focus on positioning Brazil as a leader in global initiatives. Recent polls show a drop in approval of the government’s foreign policy, from 49% to 28%. The Brazilian government has faced foreign policy challenges due to Lula’s connections with dictatorial regimes like Venezuela and Iran. His past support for Putin in the Ukraine war and controversial remarks about Israel have led to a loss of support from evangelicals who consider Israel the promised land. The president of Israel reacted by inviting former president Jair Bolsonaro to visit the country. Bolsonaro, who was Catholic, is now considering becoming an evangelical.

While Brazil aims for a leading role in climate change policy, it also supports oil-friendly regimes and Petrobras’ growth strategy. Recent polls suggest a potential failure of the government in addressing issues that previously earned favor for Lula. There’s a disconnect with the current state of affairs in labor union policy and labor relations, highlighted by debates on regulating new platforms like Uber using outdated union criteria. The labor landscape is evolving globally, emphasizing the need for updated approaches.

When Lula won the presidency for the third time, it was by a narrow margin of just over a million votes in a divided nation. Acknowledging this national schism, Lula pledged to reunite the country after Bolsonaro’s disruptive term. However, he may have miscalculated the transition from traditional to digital politics over the past 20 years, especially regarding the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Bolsonaro’s rise to power was largely fueled by the influence of social media, highlighting the shift in Brazil’s political landscape.

Bolsonaro, not known for his statesmanship, faces a spate of legal troubles and coup allegations. Yet, he remains a key far-right figure due to a number of very active right-wing social media networks. This influence was evident in the large pro-Bolsonaro rally in São Paulo that even surprised the government.

Lula still struggles to adapt to the new digital era. He and his Workers’ Party (PT) remain entirely analog, lagging far behind the opposition’s efficient online presence. Surprisingly, Lula doesn’t even own a mobile phone. All contact goes through his wife, Janja, frustrating those seeking direct communication with the president.

One thing is clear: the government’s social media activity is a far cry from that of the Bolsonaro opposition. The country remains divided, despite Lula’s efforts, with the extreme right holding a firm majority in Congress. This significantly hampers the government’s ability to pass new reform initiatives.

Lula’s Workers’ Party is alarmed by poll data showing a growing rejection of the government, despite its significant social achievements benefiting marginalized citizens. The PT, once the dominant left-wing party in Latin America, now finds itself a minority in Congress. Bolsonaro supporters hold key committee positions and have initiated multiple impeachment actions against Lula.

A crucial test to gauge the challenges facing the current administration will be the upcoming municipal elections in October. These elections will set the stage for the 2026 presidential elections, where the PT has already nominated Lula once more. They are also a major opportunity for Bolsonaro and the far-right to bolster its position ahead of the 2026 presidential race.

Those familiar with Lula are aware that the former union leader is adept at navigating challenging situations, even while in prison. He’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes, constantly transforming himself. Lula has always been resilient, and even his far-right antagonists know that it will be hard to get him on the ropes.

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