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Invisible or Hidden? Populist Attitudes and Voting Behavior in Brazil and Mexico

Latin America
Populism
Voting
Public Opinion
Voting Behaviour
Eduardo Ryo Tamaki
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Bruno Castanho Silva
University of Cologne
Mario Fuks
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais UFMG
Eduardo Ryo Tamaki
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Abstract

The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil was a shocking moment, even if not completely unexpected. The first two years of his administration have seen him confirm academic's placement of his discourse and practice squarely within the current wave of radical right leaders across the world, alongside other elected officials such as Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, or Viktor Orban. On the other hand, Latin America experienced the rise of left-wing-populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his "people of Mexico", in what experts called the most important election in Mexico's history. Recent research on the 2018 Brazilian Presidential elections indicates that despite high levels of populist attitudes among the public – slightly higher than that found in places such as Greece – and the presence of an ideal scenario of political and economic crisis, electoral support for the far-right populist candidate Jair Bolsonaro is explained rather by right-wing ideological positions, with populist attitudes playing a minimal role if any. Based on that, we seek to test these findings on a different yet very similar scenario: the Mexican elections of 2018 that elected Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-wing populist. Do populist attitudes play a significant role in explaining the vote for Obrador in 2018, or, following the same pattern as Brazil, are they overshadowed by left-wing ideological preferences? We use data from the last wave of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (5th wave of the CSES) of 2018, including surveys in both Brazil and Mexico, to measure populist attitudes and its effect in predicting vote for Obrador and Bolsonaro, and compare the support of electorally successful right- and left-wing populism in Latin America’s two largest democracies. These findings help us understand the appeal of populism in the region in a period of crisis and after the heyday of left-populism in the 2000’s.