When Jair Bolsonaro addressed his supporters after they elected him as President of Brazil, he began by saying “I first want to thank God.” According to polls and grassroots efforts, he can also thank a large portion of Brazil’s evangelical community who eagerly supported his candidacy.
Evangelicals in Brazil were energized for this election because of many frustrations with Brazil’s government. The nation faced increasing crime, economic decline, and rampant government corruption. In addition, evangelicals reacted strongly to the country’s liberalization on issues related to sexuality. One pastor, Bishop Robson Rodovalho, told Reuters that, “The left went too far,” adding, “Indoctrinating school children on sex revolted many parents. Today we are seeing a boiling over of reaction.”
Bolsonaro skyrocketed to prominence in the election through a promise to promote family values, to restore law and order, and to clean out government corruption. The 27-year congressman ran as a political outsider who was uniquely qualified to deal with Brazil’s problems. He has a history of controversial statements and unpopular stands that bolstered his credibility.
This approach resonated with evangelicals. Pastor Silas Malafaia, who leads 50 Brazilian churches, told the Associated Press that Bolsonaro was the kind of man who should lead the nation’s 210 million residents. He said, “In Brazil, we need a macho like him,” saying the new President would “defend all the values and principles of the Christian family.”
Brazilian evangelicals, who comprise 20 percent of the population, organized grassroots efforts to support Bolsonaro. They passed out flyers and expended great energy to promote him to the people in their social circles.
While Catholics in Brazil outnumber Evangelicals by 80 million, one Brazilian political observer, Antonio Lavareda, said that Evangelicals are more adept at organizing politically. He told the Associated Pressthat, “The evangelical vote is very organic in that pastors and bishops have a relationship with followers that influences how they vote. It’s the opposite in the Catholic Church, where, despite having more congregants, priests have less direct influence.”
Both Bolsonaro’s promise to get tough on crime and his appeal to evangelical voters reminded many of President’s Trump’s 2016 campaign. Bolsonaro expressed his admiration for Trump and followed some of the strategies that he employed. He attacked the Brazilian media, saying that he is “totally in favor of a freedom of the press. But if it’s up to me, press that shamelessly lies will not have any government support.”
President Trump tweeted his congratulations to Bolsonaro Sunday, saying that he looks forward to working with him. “Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else! Excellent call, wished him congrats!”