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Candidates, Voters, and Bots: The Forces at Play in the October 2018 Brazilian Elections

With one month to go before the critical vote, the Brazil Institute hosted an in-depth conversation on the elections, including the presentation of a new public opinion poll. After considering the outlook for the vote, experts specifically examined the potential role of social media and fake news.

Date & Time

Sep. 4, 2018
9:00am – 12:00pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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More than 150 million Brazilian voters will go to the polls on October 7 to choose a new president, 27 governors, and hundreds of representatives at the federal and state levels. It is likely to be the most consequential election that Brazil has seen since the reinstatement of democracy in the 1980s. It is also proving to be one of the hardest to predict, as the electorate remains skeptical of the political class four years into an unprecedented corruption investigation that has now seen the imprisonment of leading political figures and businessmen. The prevalence of social media and the rise of fake news in a country with over 116 million internet-users has only added to the uncertainty.

With one month to go before the critical vote, the Brazil Institute hosted an in-depth conversation on the elections, including the presentation of a new public opinion poll. After considering the outlook for the vote, experts specifically examined the potential role of social media and fake news.


Selected Quotes

Monica de Bolle:

“The legacy that the current government is leaving for the next government is serious indeed. Although Temer did a lot of things under his administration, he did not contain spending, unlike what most people would like to say. He did not contain the debt trajectory. The debt trajectory is getting worse over time. What he did do was push a lot of these problems forward, because by instituting the spending cap that was put in place in 2016, the way it was designed managed to put off the real adjustment into the next administration, and that’s what we are going to have to see happen.”

“In an election, where you have a multi-modal median voter problem, if you will, where you have a lot of median voters going on, where you have to basically speak in a way that doesn’t alienate completely certain segments of the population, you, as a candidate, are very limited in the way that you can speak about these reforms and in the way that these reforms have to be done.”

“We might have, depending on who gets elected, a bit of a honeymoon period followed by turbulence, or we might just dive straight into turbulence. In any case, the reforms are probably going to get done with turbulence, not without.”

Ricardo Mendes:

“We have these new forces, let’s put it this way, specifically social media and the connectedness. Some candidates are much more efficient in communicating with their respective voters. However, we think that the traditional forces still play an important role. What are these traditional political forces? An important one is the social-economic context in which this election is being held. Brazil is coming out of the biggest recession in its history, and that really doesn’t favor candidates from the sitting government. People are looking for alternative programs. People are looking for something different.”

“Less than twenty percent of Brazilian voters identified themselves in the extremes. Some candidates might be doing well in the polls talking to the extremes – people who would be voting for them under any circumstances – but we still have all these voters in the middle who have not defined who they are going to vote for. This is another traditional force that is extremely important: the ideological profile of the population. We cannot just rule this out because of all the anti-establishment feeling that we have right now.”

Marco Aurélio Ruediger (powerpoint available below):

“Fake news itself has always existed since politics has existed in the world. It’s not something new. Politics is rooted in fake news in a certain sense. The difference is that you can now create thousands and thousands of fake profiles that can spread this fake news in seconds. That is misinformation, and that is quite problematic for a democratic society.”

“Today, both the market and the society deal with an old issue applied to the networks and to politics: decipher me, or I will devour you.”

“We found that both President Nicolás Maduro and Evo Morales took part of this debate that was published by bots – a lot of criticisms that were made against the West and the West’s relations with Brazil. So the Brazilian election is very capable of being influenced by its neighbors and countries that have strategic and economic interests in Brazil, like China and Russia.”

Learn more about Marco Aurélio Ruediger's and FGV-DAPP's work in this short video:



Paulo Sotero, Director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center


Panel I: Assessing the Field of Presidential Hopefuls

Mauricio Moura, CEO & Founder of Ideia Big Data

Sergio Fausto, Executive Director of the Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Ricardo Mendes, Managing Partner at Prospectiva Consulting

Monica de Bolle, Director of Latin America Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies


Panel II: The Role of Social Media, Bots, and Fake News in the Brazilian Election Campaign

Marco Aurélio Ruediger, Director of Public Policy Analysis at the Fundação Getulio Vargas-RJ

Meg King, Director of the Digital Futures Project and Coordinator of the Science, Technology and Innovation Program at the Wilson Center

Hosted By

Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and U.S. institutions in all sectors.  Read more

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