GZERO Media logo

Did Bolsonaro go from bust to boom?

Did Bolsonaro go from bust to boom?

Just a few months ago, things were not looking good for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

As the coronavirus bore down on his country, he was ridiculing the disease, losing health ministers in quick succession, and squabbling with governors over lockdown measures that he opposed. The Brazilian leader's approval ratings sank into the low 30s. Then his own star justice minister quit after accusing Bolsonaro of interfering in a police corruption probe, and soon after talk of impeachment was in the air. So too were fears that Bolsonaro, a former army captain with a soft spot for Brazil's old military dictatorship, might attempt a coup. To top it off, he fell ill with COVID-19, and — to add insult to infection — one of his own presidential palace emus bit him on the hand.

We'll admit, we too wondered if Bolsonaro was going bust.

But earlier this week brought a remarkable turnaround. A new study by leading pollster Datafolha shows that Bolsonaro now enjoys the highest approval ratings of his entire presidency. Granted it's still just 37 percent, but that's up 5 points since June, while his disapproval rating fell a whopping 10 points to 34 percent.


There are three ways to explain the resurrection of a politician whose middle name is, literally, "Messiah."

First, money can buy love. Bolsonaro's seen his biggest recent gains among the millions of low-income and informal workers who've been getting monthly stimulus checks of about $200 from the government to offset the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns. In fact, his ratings soared most in the populous and relatively poor Northeast — historically a bastion of support for Bolsonaro's arch-enemy, leftwing former president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva.

Second, Bolsonaro has been less Bolsonaro-ish lately. Maybe the virus mellowed him out a bit, or maybe he sees a political upside to toning down his attacks on the Supreme Court or Congress, but Bolsonaro — who made his name with provocative and offensive statements — has been noticeably less controversial lately. While he can always count on cult-like devotion from roughly a third of Brazilians, this kinder, gentler Bolsonaro is now winning back people who liked his populist challenge to the system but were uneasy with his more extreme pronouncements on democracy, lawmakers, and the courts.

Third, even death becomes normal. Brazil still has the world's second-worst coronavirus outbreak. More than 105,000 people have died, and the number rises by 1,000 every day. But, crucially, the trend isn't getting worse. In fact, in many big cities it's getting better now. Amazingly, nearly half of Brazilians don't hold Bolsonaro responsible for the death toll at all.

Still, let's not get carried away. A 37 percent approval rating isn't exactly a fireworks display of popular support. And Brazil is still suffering the worst public health and economic crisis in generations. What's more, the stimulus payments expire next month, meaning Bolsonaro needs to negotiate a fresh package.

But the president's rising approval ratings make it easier to do that with Congress, and they also disperse the earlier threat of impeachment. As the 2022 election starts to appear on the horizon, does the famously reactionary Bolsonaro have the cash and the patience to keep this momentum going?

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

More Show less

The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

More Show less

Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal