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News > Latin America

Brazil: Far-Right Bolsonaro Gains Women Voters Despite Sexism

  • Right-wing Jair Bolsonaro supporters attend a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 29, 2018.

    Right-wing Jair Bolsonaro supporters attend a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 29, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 October 2018

Women who previously balked at Jair Bolsonaro could help propel him to the presidency and possibly a first-round victory on Sunday, analysts say.

Luzia Amaral took a long hard look at Brazil's presidential candidates and eventually settled on far-right Jair Bolsonaro, viewing him as the only option to prevent the return of the leftist Workers Party (PT) in this weekend's vote.

Outrageous Quotes That Prove Jair Bolsonaro is a Threat to Brazil's Democracy

Amaral is one of a growing number of women who opinion polls show have recently warmed to Bolsonaro, a divisive ultra-conservative candidate whose comments belittling rape and defending the gender pay gap have long alienated many female voters.

That prospect cheers investors and economic elites who fear a return of the PT's left-leaning policies, but terrifies Bolsonaro's critics, who say his views echo those of U.S. President Donald Trump or even hardline Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Amaral said she was not thrilled by Bolsonaro's pledge to loosen gun laws and disliked his homophobic statements, but ultimately she was willing to overlook those if he was able to beat PT candidate Fernando Haddad.

"In truth, my vote is a protest vote," said Amaral, a 64-year-old retired civil servant in downtown Rio de Janeiro. "Right now, among the current crop of candidates, none of them would be my choice to govern the country."

A Datafolha poll on Tuesday showed Bolsonaro extending his lead over second-placed Haddad, and indicated the right-winger could win an expected run-off vote that would take place on October 28 if nobody clinches a majority on Sunday.

The signs that Bolsonaro is gaining momentum drove Brazil's stock index up to a near five-month high and its currency to its strongest level in almost two months on Wednesday.

"(The polls are) bringing euphoria to the market... which is already beginning to price in the possibility of a (Bolsonaro) victory in the first round," said currency strategist Fernanda Consorte, from bank Ourinvest.

Bolsonaro's support among women has risen some 6 percentage points in the last week alone, the polls suggest. That is all the more surprising given it comes just days after his candidacy provoked the largest female-led street demonstrations Brazil has seen in decades.

Far from slowing Bolsonaro, a federal congressman who was hospitalized for much of September after being stabbed in an apparent assassination attempt, the protests appear to have helped him, particularly among some women who viewed the young, progressive protesters as PT supporters.

Luzinete Silva, a 55-year-old lawyer in Rio who recently decided to vote for Bolsonaro, said the women who participated in the marches were "misinformed." "I don't think those women are well-educated and they're not looking at and reading (Bolsonaro's) proposals and analyzing what's going on in the whole country," she said.

A new Ibope poll due later on Wednesday should shed light on whether Bolsonaro's growing support among women continues, and what chance he may have of winning in the first round. Nobody has won the presidency in Brazil in the first round since 1998.

But sudden last-minute waves of anti-PT sentiment have impacted recent local elections, such as Joao Doria's landslide first-round victory over Haddad to become mayor of Sao Paulo in 2016.

Bolsonaro's chances of winning on Sunday would be boosted if there is high abstention, and if many voters cast blank or spoiled ballots, said Leonardo Barreto, head of Brasilia-based political consultancy Factual.

"If the trends detected by Ibope and Datafolha this week continue with further growth for Bolsonaro, we could have a final wave of support for him," said Barreto.

He added that if Bolsonaro reaches 34 percent in Wednesday's Ibope poll, it could augur well for a first-round win, noting that Bolsonaro's campaign believes they are 5 to 6 percentage points short of winning outright.

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