More than half of the women polled said they would never vote for the far-right leader, regardless of their social class, which has been a traditional indicator of voting preferences.
Polling expert Antonio Lavareda says Bolsonaro has no chance of winning if he fails to win over more women. “There is a huge rejection among them. Even among those who haven’t made up their minds yet, he’s less likely to be their choice,” he said in a phone interview.
That’s a far cry from 2018. Days before the former fringe lawmaker’s victory four years ago, polls showed women were roughly evenly split between Bolsonaro and his leftist opponent, a former Sao Paulo mayor. . That despite Bolsonaro’s joke that he fathered a daughter in a moment of weakness and his remark to a fellow lawmaker, she was too ugly to rape. Many women, especially those from the upper social classes, supported his campaign.
Bolsonaro has since hemorrhaged female support. This is partly due to his handling of the pandemic and his insistence on casting doubt on the effectiveness of vaccines, even strongly opposing their use in children, said Esther Solano, a sociologist at the Federal University from Sao Paulo. The president is still unvaccinated against COVID-19 and a country with a proud tradition of successful vaccination campaigns has seen the second highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world.
“Women are always impacted by the idea of care, because it is the woman who gives the care. Bolsonaro not taking care of people during the pandemic has had a much more negative impact on the female population,” said Solano, who conducted a poll of potential Bolsonaro voters.
More generally, she said, four years of Bolsonaro’s “aggressive tone” has diminished her support.
“He shows a very toxic, very strong, very violent kind of masculinity. Just as there are men who have been fascinated by this kind of masculinity, by the aggressive man who speaks in a politically incorrect way, who is intolerant, who shows a certain force, many women feel attacked by this,” she added.
Bolsonaro has also been blamed for the fastest inflation in nearly two decades, as have other incumbents 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 package has been slashed, and the housekeeper now finds herself aspiring to da Silva’s administration, which produced an emerging middle class from 2003 to 2010. She doesn’t did not vote in 2018, but now intends to vote for da Silva, known universally in Brazil as Lula.
“At the time, during the pandemic, the aids were working. They saved a lot of mothers,” dos Santos, 35, said. “Now I spend those 400 reais ($77) at the supermarket and inflation eats up a lot of it. In Lula’s time, we ate.
Bolsonaro’s camp recognizes his disadvantage among women, and hopes he can win over much of the roughly one-third of women who polls show remain undecided. What does not exist is an agreement on how to adjust the course.
Analysts have speculated that Bolsonaro’s campaign could deploy his wife Michelle, 40, in public appearances and TV spots. An almost-dressed evangelical Christian, she is fluent in sign language and personifies the caring housewife who can smooth Bolsonaro’s rough edges and attract potential female voters, Solano said.
The first lady was supposed to tape TV spots earlier this month, but that didn’t happen, according to two of Bolsonaro’s ministers and two senators who are close advisers to the president. They told The Associated Press that the spots were taken down because the president’s lawmaking sons were divided on which strategy he should adopt: doubling down on his 2018 strategy of inflammatory language or toning down his brashness as a means of raising awareness. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about campaign strategy.
The allies have also urged Bolsonaro to choose a running mate, like Tereza Cristina, his former agriculture minister, according to the same four officials. Instead, he said he would choose another soldier, General Walter Braga Netto, adviser to the president. He could still change his mind before an August deadline, although that seems increasingly unlikely, his allies told the AP.
Cristina was one of three female cabinet ministers in 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 choices to replace them left only one woman in cabinet.
Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe in polls, arguing his constituents don’t respond to polls.
His direct attempts to reach female voters were cut short. He said on International Women’s Day in March that women “are fundamentally integrated into society” and on April 12 said his administration had done 63 things for them, without specifying which ones. The presidential palace did not respond to repeated emails from the AP asking for details of those actions.
In the meantime, some women who were once potential Bolsonaro voters are now actively working to overthrow him.
Rosangela Lyra, a former Christian Dior executive in Brazil, shocked her friends when she began rallying support for da Silva after backing prosecutors whose corruption investigations had landed him in jail. 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. He shouldn’t continue,” Lyra told the AP from the lobby of her apartment in an upscale Sao Paulo neighborhood. She heads Politica Viva, an activist group that has nearly 3,000 members, most of them women.Although she said she did not vote for Bolsonaro in 2018, she believed he could rise to power.
“I was hoping he would think better, have access to more information, become more human. But that didn’t happen,” Lyra said. “People can see now that he is incompetent and inhumane. His handling of the pandemic, the corruption of his administration, the vigilantism he supports. We cannot keep this institutional risk for another four years and become a dictatorship of right.
Lavareda said few things have hurt Bolsonaro more among women than his crusade to ease gun restrictions. When he campaigned in 2018, widespread access to guns for civilians was part of his rhetoric to help curb homicides that had risen to a 10-year high the previous year.
Claudianne Silva, a cashier at a Sao Paulo supermarket who had just lost a nephew to gun violence, said the new president should be tough on crime and corruption.
This time around, however, she feels Bolsonaro has failed to deliver on his promises and will vote for da Silva.
“I voted for Bolsonaro because I was mad at everyone, but now I’m so mad at him that I will vote for the person he hates the most,” Silva, 47, said. “It’s not that I think Lula will do much better. Times are different now. But I want Bolsonaro out.
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.