Political Culture

Brazil Table of Contents

Many aspects of Brazil's political system may be explained by its political culture (see Glossary), the origins of which may be found in traditional rural society during the colonial and independence periods through 1930. This political culture evolved into three styles of politics. Under the more traditional style of politics, coronelismo, the local coronel (colonel), in alliance with other large farmers, controlled the votes of rural workers and their families. The local political chiefs in turn exchanged votes with politicians at the state level in return for political appointments and public works in their municipalities (municípios ).

As rural-urban migration increased after 1930, a transitional style of clientelistic politics emerged in medium-size and large-size cities. Under this system, neighborhood representatives of urban politicians would help recent migrants resolve their problems in exchange for votes. These representatives were usually from "clientele professions," such as medical doctors, dentists, and pharmacists.

The third style of mass politics involved a direct populist appeal to the voter by the politician, without formal intermediation by clientelism or domination by coronelismo . Research in the early 1990s revealed that in most cases voter decision making has been influenced by a mixture of the second and third styles, as well as by peer groups, opinion leaders, and television soap operas (telenovelas ).

Polling results since the early 1970s have revealed changing public opinion concerning the relative merits of military government versus democracy. For example, the proportion of Brazilians favorable to military government decreased from 79 percent in 1972 to 36 percent in 1990. Moreover, 70 percent of Brazilians agreed in 1990 that the government should not use troops against striking workers, as compared with only 7 percent in 1972. In a March 1995 poll conducted by the Datafolha agency, however, only 46 percent of Brazilians responded that "democracy is always preferred over dictatorship," as compared with 59 percent endorsing the same proposition in March 1993. The relatively low crime rates during the military period may be a factor in the shift in public opinion regarding democracy.

Brazil has a diversity of regional political cultures. Politics in the states of the Northeast (Nordeste) and North (Norte) are much more dependent on political benevolence from Brasília than are the states of the South (Sul) and Southeast (Sudeste). Because Brazil's southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, suffered three civil wars and was involved frequently in political conflicts in the Río de la Plata areas, its population holds strong political loyalties. As a result, the Liberal Front Party (Partido da Frente Liberal--PFL) and the PSDB have very limited penetration in Rio Grande do Sul. Both parties are considered traitors: the PFL had splintered from the military regime's Democratic Social Party (Partido Democrático Social--PDS) in 1984, and the PSDB had broken from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro--PMDB) in 1988.

In the Southeast state of Minas Gerais, politics is conducted in a very cautious, calculated manner. Politicians there are known for their ability to negotiate and cut bargains, and they have political "adversaries" rather than enemies. In the western frontier states, politics is constantly evolving, because of the continuous inward migration from other regions. Most politicians and voters are newcomers with no local political roots or traditions.

The Southeast states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have received large influxes of rural-urban and north-south migration since the 1950s. Because of higher levels of industrialization, per capita income, labor union membership, and education, the level of political consciousness is higher in these states than in those to the north and west.

As a result of intense rural-urban migration since 1960, urban voters have increased from fewer than 30 percent to more than 70 percent of the population in 1994. In 1960 only 22 percent (15.5 million) of Brazil's population was registered to vote; by 1994 more than 60 percent (nearly 95 million) of the population was enfranchised. The new migrants to urban areas quickly enhanced their political consciousness through television, increased schooling, and membership in new associations, such as labor unions.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress