Call for Nominations: 2019 Political Sociology Section Awards

You are invited to submit your nominations for the 2019 Political Sociology Section Awards. The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2019:

The Distinguished Career Award in Political Sociology
The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2019.

The Distinguished Career Award recognizes and celebrates a lifetime of contributions to the area(s) of political sociology. Nominations will be judged on the depth and breadth of the scholar’s impact on political sociology over the course of their career. Nominees must be at least a quarter of a century beyond graduating with their Ph.D. Section members may nominate a distinguished scholar by sending:

A letter (PDF or MSWord) of nomination, which outlines the candidate’s scholarly contributions to the field and provides assurance of the candidate’s willingness to be nominated; a copy of the candidate’s most recent curriculum vitae; and
the full contact information for the nominee (including email address), to the nominating committee below:
The Distinguished Career Award Committee:
Pamela Paxton, University of Texas at Austin (Chair)
Jeff Manza, New York University
Debra Minkoff, Barnard College

The winner will be notified and announced prior to the ASA meetings.

The Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award in Political Sociology
The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2019.

This award is given annually to the outstanding recent book in political sociology (we will not consider edited books for this award). To be eligible, the book must have a 2018 copyright date. The selection committee encourages self-nominations or suggestions of work by others. Nominations from publishers will not be accepted. To nominate a book for this award:

Send a short letter (via e-mail) nominating the book to each committee member below and have a copy of the book sent to each committee member, at the addresses below:
Hana Brown, Wake Forest University (Chair)
Department of Sociology
1834 Wake Forest Rd.
PO Box 7808
Winston-Salem, NC 27109

Cybelle Fox, University of California Berkeley
Department of Sociology
410 Barrows Hall
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-1980

Paul Frymer, Princeton University
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
314 Wallace Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

The winner will be notified and announced prior to the ASA meetings allowing presses to advertise the prize-winning book.

The Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship for an Article or Chapter Award for Political Sociology
The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2019.

This award is offered annually for the outstanding recently published article or chapter in political sociology. To be eligible, submissions must have a 2018 publication date. The selection committee encourages either self-nominations or suggestions of work by others. (Please note that each author may have only one article nominated.) Please submit the following to the selection committee at their email addresses listed below:

A brief nomination letter and a copy of the article or chapter.
The Best Article or Book Chapter Award Committee:
G. Cristina Mora, University of California, Berkeley (Chair)
Jennifer YJ Hsu, London School of Economics and Political Science
Nicholas Pedriana University of Wisconsin – Whitewater
Robin Stryker, Purdue University Stryker,

Author Meets Critic: American Discontent by John Campbell

In the fall 2018 newsletter, Alexander Hicks reviewed John Campbell’s American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and Decline of the Golden Age (Oxford University Press, 2018) as part of his essay on two recent books explaining the outcome of the 2016 US election. John Campbell responds to the book review in his piece, “Discontent with American Discontent? A Reply to Alex Hicks.” The full exchange is below.

American Discontent

Discontent with American Discontent? A Reply to Alex Hicks

John Campbell, Dartmouth College

Alex Hicks’s review in the latest newsletter (Fall 2018, pp. 19-21) of my new book, American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and Decline of the Golden Age (Oxford University Press, 2018), is sympathetic to my argument about the structural and historical conditions that led to Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. But he also raises some criticisms that deserve a response. In brief, he got one thing terribly wrong about my argument and missed the point on a couple of others.

First, Hicks wrote that in my view “only long-term trends” in the American economy, race relations, ideology and politics were responsible for Trump’s rise to power, attributing this quotation to page 11 in my book.  The problem is that I never wrote that!  On the contrary, I said explicitly that these long-term trends were at work and were very important but not that they were the “only” things that propelled Trump to the White House.  In fact, on p. 3, before reviewing a number of other factors that probably influenced the outcome of the election too, and again four pages later, summing up what I wrote about them in the previous few pages, I acknowledged that idiosyncrasies were influential, such as James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email issue, various strategic blunders by the Clinton campaign, Russian email hacking, Trump’s media-savvy persona, and more. With reference to these idiosyncrasies I wrote the following (p. 7):

“There may be some truth to all this speculation about why Trump won. But this Monday morning quarterbacking ignores the underlying structural and historical factors that created an opening for him in the first place.”

Without question attributing Trump’s victory exclusively to long-term trends and ignoring the more proximate peculiarities of the election would be wrongheaded and overly deterministic. But that was not what I argued. Moreover, I explained that one reason I wrote the book was to correct the general impression being given by many popular books, newspaper and magazine articles, and media pundits in the months soon after the election that Trump’s victory was simply due to these idiosyncrasies. I wanted to reveal the deeper currents that were also at work. I wanted to balance the debate. To my knowledge, my book is still the only one that does that.

The second criticism Hicks levels at American Discontent is that I should have started my historical analysis of the long-term trends that helped Trump win the White House much earlier than the late 1960s and early 1970s, which is where my story begins. In particular, he focuses on my argument that Trump benefitted from the Nixonian-based Southern strategy of dog-whistle racial politics that persisted from that time in various forms right through the 2016 election—a trend upon which Trump capitalized on the campaign trail, often in outrageous terms. Hicks argues that I ignored the historical continuities connecting these post-1960s developments with earlier political shifts stretching back to the late 1930s where the “conservative coalition” of Republicans and Southern Democrats first began to congeal. He is certainly right about the connection there. But that misses the point. On the one hand, insofar as race is concerned, how far back do we need to go for my argument about structural and historical conditions to be satisfying?  One can imagine extending the argument back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction era or even farther back to the days of slavery.  But I’m not sure there would be much value-added in doing so. On the other hand, and much more important for the book’s primary claim, the late 1960s and 1970s were a pivotal point in my story not just because they witnessed the rising Southern strategy but also because this was a time when economic trends in the United States began to sour, the ideological turn to the right, particularly in economic policy, gathered widespread momentum, and, of course, it all got mixed politically with issues of race.  This was a critical structural and historical juncture. So, I would defend the dawn of the 1970s as the appropriate starting point for the story simply because this is where all of the major trends I discussed in the book began to converge in ways that laid the foundation for Trump’s eventual victory.

Hicks’s third concern is the flip side of his first one. In his view, I should have paid much more attention to two particularly important idiosyncrasies in the 2016 election. One was the role that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson’s third-party candidacies played in siphoning off votes from Clinton in crucial swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—that many people believe cost her the election.[1] The other was FBI Director James Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress resuscitating concerns that Clinton had mishandled official emails while she was Secretary of State. Without their candidacies and without that letter, Hicks argues, Clinton probably would have carried these three states and won the election. I do not dispute this. But, as I suggested on p. 16 in my book, the larger question remains: Why was the election so close to begin with that these things mattered so much, particularly in these states? After all, based on her résumé Clinton was arguably one of the most qualified candidates for the presidency the nation had ever seen. She also had a formidable campaign war chest and organization behind her. The answer is that the trends identified in American Discontent had reached a point where someone like Trump could win enough support in swing states and elsewhere that the difference between victory and defeat was slim enough that peculiarities like these mattered a lot on election day.

Hicks and I may continue to disagree about American Discontent. But I’m sure that the next time we meet we can go out for a beer together and continue the conversation in a civil tone. Too bad that sort of civility has become so rare in American politics these days.


[1] Ironically, while Hillary Clinton may have lost due to the defection of third-party voters, her husband won the presidency in 1992 thanks to Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy pulling votes away from George H. W. Bush.


Theories, Trends, Trifles and Trump’s Election

Alexander Hicks, Emory University

A Review of Alan Abramowitz’s The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump, Yale University Press, 2018 and John Campbell’s American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and Decline of the Golden Age, Oxford University Press, 2018.

“In affairs of magnitude, I have learned, everything invariably turns upon a trifle.” -Napoleon Bonaparte (quoted in Benko, 2011)

This past spring brought us the two ambitious and instructive analyses of the 2016 election reviewed here. Both reflect a long tradition of election studies that seek to understand nation-wide individual voter choices as outcomes of voter attitudes and demographics. They proceed on the assumption that such explanations generally override details like those thrown up by likes of the Electoral College.

Abramowitz’s Great Alignment falls within this tradition, although it is enriched by more attention to the historical development of electoral preferences than the tradition typically provides. Abramowitz shows how a strong partisan alignment comprehending nearly all voters arose out of the breakup of the old New Deal coalition. Importantly, he finds that the white vote, the white working class vote more especially, was key to 2016 Republican presidential voting.

John Campbell’s American Discontent posits that “only long-term trends” in the American economy, race relations, ideology and politics stretching back to the 1970s can explain Trump’s rise to power” (p. 11, Chap. 3). He argues that anxieties about the possibilities for upward mobility linked to racial competition mattered more than simple working-class economic discontent for Trump’s advance to the White House—anxieties complemented by ones about inner city crime and radical Islamic terror and that often turned out to be unsupported by the facts (p.77). Discontent is richly instructive about how aspects of national demography (e.g., income inequality, declining upward mobility, and poverty (pp. 34–63)) and public opinion (e.g., institutional trust, ideological and partisan orientations and polarization (pp.74–121) bear on Trump’s ascendance. The book is also attentive to the corrosive forces of deindustrialization. Campbell’s principal focus and major contribution consists of his tracing of those long-term trends, but the account is perhaps not long-term enough.

For Campbell, the 1970s are the start to the strongly conservative, if not reactionary, strands of his trends and to the boosts given these by Nixon’s Southern strategy and aspects of the McGovern campaign that “undermined the Democratic coalition that had supported progressive social policy and labor interests in Congress since World War II” (p. 44). Yet he does not extend back far enough. Campbell writes as if his highlighted 1970s events created a conservative upsurge de novo rather than simply modifying one “conservative coalition” of Republicans and Southern Democrats into a Republican block. This “conservative coalition” begins to coalesce into the racist, anti-welfare, broadly inegalitarian coalition it would become in reaction to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. With the emergence of this coalition such major post-New Deal reforms as the Voting Rights and Medicare/Medicaid amendments to the Social Security Act had to await the Congressional non-Southern Democratic majorities of the early LBJ years.

Campbell bypasses reference to political scientists’ “three-party system” system of roughly 1938–1984 during which progressive welfare, labor market and racial legislation regularly— excepting a few liberal Democratic surges like that of 1964–1965—faced majority opposition from an alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats (Poole and Rosenstein 2006). In short, Campbell is silent on the continuities linking the pre-President Nixon decades of the “conservative coalition” to the Republican Southern conservatism plotted by Nixon’s Southern strategy and its realization in the 1980–1984 transformation of most White Southern voters and Congressional seats into formally conservative Republican ones, a development that continued on more grounds than Nixon’s 1969–1974 dog whistling.

Campbell’s 2016 focus on national aggregate political preference and choice runs up against Hillary Clinton’s 2016 popular vote victory. Mistakenly, this national aggregate casts little light on the pivotal role of Trump-GOP successes in three Midwestern states—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—that had voted for Democratic Presidential candidates since 1988.

Despite some historical deepening, Abramowitz focuses far more than Campbell on voter attitudes closer to voting time. He particularly emphasizes the vote framing role of “negative partisanship” and the more proximate motivating forces of economic and racial anxiety (pp. 5–8). “Negative partisanship” is a mode of partisanship marked by less enthusiasm for one’s favored party than greater animosity toward its opposing party. It dampens the electoral impact of candidate differences on local issues and nationalizes elections as well as polarizes electorates. Abramowitz also sharply focuses on economic and, above all, racial anxiety and makes a strong analytical case for a greater impact of racial/ethnic resentment than economic anxiety on voting. On his core White voting factor, Abramowitz finds that White racial/ethnic resentment exceeds White economic anxieties as a force at the polls, that it is key, alongside one’s Republicanism, to Trump primary and general election voting (pp. 139, 158); and he finds that racial/ethnic resentment and misogyny are principal differentiators of especially pro-Trump non-college White voters from college-graduate White voters (p. 157). He also explicitly focuses on a post-1970s White working-class vote shift toward, Trump as “what gave Trump his narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin” (p. 152). However, like Campbell, he does not much focus on how more idiosyncratic factors may have operated to determine the surprise 2016 swings in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Two such idiosyncrasies may explain the crucial swings in question, the Jill Stein and Gary Johnson vote and the October 28 Comey letter to Congress.

A Clinton loss of liberal votes to “third-party” candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, especially the former, offers a potent account how Trump’s snatched victories in Michigan and Wisconsin, if not Pennsylvania; and in Michigan, Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by only 10,704 votes, far less than the 51,463 votes garnered by Stein alone. In Wisconsin, Trump’s margin over Clinton was 22,177 in contrast with Stein’s 31,006 votes. However, in Pennsylvania, Trump’s victory margin of 67,46 votes exceeded Stein’s 49,485 votes (Bump, 2016). A second “catch” confronting a “third-party” answer to the election is uncertainty about just what share of Stein and Johnson votes actually did cut into Clinton’s net support. Here, Nate Silver fortunately offers a seemingly judicious estimate: Stein and Johnson voters, given a two-party, would have voted about 35% for Clinton and 10% for Trump (or stayed home), yielding a 25% bonus for Clinton relative Trump. Using a 0.25 adjustment to factor the Stein-Plus-Johnson vote into the Trump-Clinton race duplicates the bottom line offered by a simple allocation of all Stein votes to a Clinton in in Michigan and Wisconsin, though not Pennsylvania.

As for the Comey letter of October 28 that briefly reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails, there is good reason to believe that its impact may have cut deeply enough into Clinton support from “late deciders” to have swung the election in all three Midwestern swing states, Pennsylvania included (Blake, 2016).

Overall, it seems most unlikely that the combination of Stein-Johnson and Comey did not suffice to turn the race. This does not imply that states other than the ones stressed here did not matter. However, among states Trump won, only Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are ones that Democrats have consistently won since Reagan’s pretty consistently durable 1984 reddening of the South and most of the non-Pacific west. These three rust-belt swing states aside, there is nothing about the 2016 election that Cowboy and Dixification accounts of the post-Carter GOP cannot explain. On the other hand, theories of the 2016 presidential election articulated in terms of citizen preferences and choices and their national aggregation, especially ones centered on racial anxiety, may serve well as accounts of Trump’s 2016 GOP nomination and portend a future extension of the GOP into Blue territory. Although local and historical specificity may sometimes generate such large as Napoleon attributed to trifles, a rising tide will tend to raise whatever it supports.

On other notes, voter suppression also may have been decisive at the margins in swing states (Wine, 2017). Although it remains somewhat speculative as of this summer of 2018, there have been noteworthy indications that “fake news” of Russia-linked origin was especially heavy in Pennsylvania and Michigan (Denise Clifton, 2017). I write “somewhat speculative” because of the early fall publication of K. H. Jamieson’s masterful Cyberwar.



Benko, Ralph. 2011. “Everything Economics Turns On a Trifle.” Forbes. 15 February 2011.

Blake, Aaron. 2016. “How America decided, at the last moment, to elect Donald Trump.” Washington Post. 17 November 2016.

Bump, Philip. 2016. “Donald Trump will be president thanks to 80,000 people in three states.” Washington Post. 1 December 2016.

Clifton, Denise. 2017. “Fake News on Twitter Flooded Swing States That Helped Trump Win.Mother Jones. 28 September 2017.

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. 2018. Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President. What we Don’t, Can’t and Do Know. New York: Oxford University Press.

Poole, Keith T. and Howard Rosenthal. 2007. Ideology and Congress. Livingston, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Roebuck, Jeremy and Andrew Seidman. 2018. “’Paint Philly Red’: How Russian trolls sought to influence PA’s 2016 vote.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 19 February 2018.

Wines, Michael. 2017. “Almost 17,000 Prevented from Voting.” The Independent. 27 September 2017.


1) CHANGE “John Campbell’s American Discontent posits that ‘only long-term trends’ in the American economy, race relations, ideology and politics stretching back to the 1970s can explain Trump’s rise to power” (p. 11, Chap. 3) TO “John Campbell’s American Discontent principally stresses ‘long-term trends’ in the American economy, race relations, ideology and politics stretching back to the 1970s as root causes of Trump’s rise to power” (p. 11, Chap. 3).

Call for Papers: 2019 Political Sociology Mini-Conference

States of Exception? Political Conflict, Culture & Populism in the Trump Era

Friday, August 9, 2019 in New York City

The ASA Political Sociology section is pleased to announce a mini-conference to be held prior to the ASA annual meeting in August. The morning sessions will center on populist politics, examining the rise of populist leaders and how they have transformed the political landscape, considering cases such as Donald Trump, Brexit populists Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico. The afternoon sessions will have a number of open panels, depending on submissions. We welcome papers on topics related to the historical rise of labor, political parties, gender and/or race politics, immigration issues, the media in politics, social movements, and other topics related to the current political situation. We similarly welcome papers that take a comparative and/or historical perspective, or that investigate questions in other countries going through challenging political processes.

In order for the organizers to read the abstracts and shape the sessions for the conference, please send your abstracts to us by February 1st, 2019. Please submit your abstracts to the panel organizer who fits your paper topic.

PANEL 1: “What is Trump’s base and will it hold in the long term?” Delia Baldassarri, Organizer,

PANEL 2: “The Politics of Fear and Resentment: Nationalist Appeals in the Trump Era,” Bart Bonikowski, Organizer,

PANEL 3: “The Trump style of populism, and how it compares to populists in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere,”Carlos de la Torre, Organizer,

PANEL 4: “Trump and the European Populists: Authoritarians, Just Showy Neo-Liberals, or Both?” Richard Lachmann, Organizer,

OPEN SUBMISSIONS: The afternoon panels will be organized by the themes that emerge from the submissions. Please submit your abstracts to Thomas Janoski, Organizer,

Conference participants and attendees will be asked to contribute a participation fee of $25 for faculty and $15 for students to cover incidentals and a small lunch. We look forward to seeing you in New York!

Symposium on Bolsonaro and Right-wing Populism in Brazil

In the fall 2018 section newsletter, scholars Marisa von Bülow (Universidade de Brasília), Carlos de la Torre (University of Kentucky), and Katherine Jensen (Tulane University) discuss the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil:

Why the Far Right Won in Brazil

Marisa von Bülow, Universidade de Brasília

A couple of years ago few (if any) scholars would have predicted the victory of the far right in the 2018 Presidential elections in Brazil. Many did point to the dangers of the moral and political crisis of the governing coalition, which, coupled with an economic crisis, created a context that was ripe for authoritarian and populist turns. However, no one really believed that Jair Bolsonaro, a former Army captain best known for his outrageous comments about torture and women than for his charisma, would be able to reap the benefits of this crisis in such a momentous way.

Much of what has been discussed about the causes of this upheaval has emphasized the role of factors such as the rising levels of crime and unemployment, or have pointed to what other political forces did or did not do, such as the corruption scandals of the left or the inability of more moderate forces to channel dissatisfaction.

While these are all relevant, in this op-ed I wish to change the focus of the discussion, by highlighting a less explored but central dimension: the effectiveness of the strategies of the far right. Three factors are particularly important to explain why the far right – and not a more moderate opposition – was able to win the Presidential race.

The first factor is the successful building of a broad conservative coalition. The so-called “bullet, beef and Bible” sectors of Congress have long been allies, bringing together the traditional power of farm owners with representatives of the security community (former military officers and policemen) and conservative religious actors, mostly from neo-Pentecostal churches.

In the past five years, this coalition has gradually broadened, to include new actors and organizations. Mimicking the bridging movement of “fusionism” that brought together traditionalist and libertarian strands of conservatism in the United States in the 1960s (Edwards, 2007), the new conservative actors of the 2010s have built bridges with the more traditional actors in Brazilian politics. Among these new actors are youth-based groups that took root in the student movement in the 2000s, and that have since created a network of civil society organizations and think tanks dedicated to promoting neoliberal economic ideas and criticizing the left (Gobbi, 2016). These tech-savvy groups became more visible during the campaign for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, when they helped organize massive street protests with the help of social media (Dias, 2017). At that time, however, these groups were not among the supporters of Bolsonaro. They came onboard in 2017 and in 2018, as the far right candidate rose in the pools and consolidated his favoritism (von Bülow, 2018).

They are strange bedfellows to the extent that these groups sponsor very different views about trade and the role of the State in the economy. However, this Brazilian-style fusionism has become feasible by focusing on broad agreements around three issues: the fight against corruption (and the demand for tougher laws against crime in general), the defense of moral values (in opposition to LGBT and feminists’ agendas), and pro-business economic policies (in detriment, for instance, of environmental protection).

The second factor that helps explain the success of Jair Bolsonaro in the elections is the highly strategic and effective use of social media in general and of the messenger app WhatsApp in particular. Again, this was not done overnight. The online network of Bolsonaro supporters was already very influential during the impeachment of President Rousseff. In 2018, the mapping of the presence of political actors and civil society organizations on social media platforms shows that there is a large and unwavering difference according to ideology. To illustrate, I will mention only one fact: a week before the second round of the Presidential elections, Bolsonaro’s Facebook page had over seven million followers, while Fernando Haddad’s (the other candidate, of the leftist Workers’ Party) had less than one million.

While it is undoubtedly true that the use of digital media in this election has been characterized by false news and misinformation, as many have argued, it is also important to recognize that much of Bolsonaro’s impressive ability to mobilize online has been based on the organic actions of a well-oiled machinery that learned, from previous protest cycles and campaigns, how to best produce and disseminate content. Of key importance in this machinery have been WhatsApp groups. In Brazil – and in other countries such as India – this messaging app is extremely popular. Around one hundred million Brazilians use WhatsApp groups to quickly disseminate messages, creating an arena that is inscrutable both for researchers and for electoral authorities.

Finally, the third factor is the ability of Jair Bolsonaro to be reborn as a charismatic leader. A former army captain, Bolsonaro had been elected, seven times in a row, as a congressman from Rio de Janeiro. Until recently, however, he was not well known at the national level. He was not even well known among his colleagues in Congress. As early as February 2017, he launched a bid to become the Speaker of the House, and was mocked among his peers after getting only four votes (the winner received 293 votes). He was the “enfant terrible” in Congress, always eager to defend the military dictatorship and to pick fights with women, gays, or human rights defenders.

It is precisely this outspoken characteristic that has been successfully flipped, from bullying behavior into a political asset. While it still entails many negative reactions – public opinion polls before the second round showed that around 40% of the electorate argued they would never vote for Bolsonaro, a very high rejection rate – many began to see in him a welcome candid approach to politics. His supporters believe that whereas all politicians are corrupt and lie, Bolsonaro says what he is really thinking.

Mito” Bolsonaro – “the Legend,” as his most fervent followers call him – was thus born. One whose potential was highly underestimated by all the other political forces and by scholars alike.

Other factors of course also had an impact, be they more structural ones (such as the seemingly unending economic and political crisis mentioned above), or more contextual ones, such as the knife attack suffered by Bolsonaro before the first round. This attack helped in consolidating a narrative of Bolsonaro as a victim fighting a corrupt system. It was also instrumental in allowing the candidate to withhold from any public debates, while maintaining a large coverage in mainstream media.

It is also important to acknowledge that the process of far-right empowerment is not a national one. In fact, many of the strategies that led to this successful outcome in the elections were lessons learned from far-right leaders and conservative movements in other countries, such as the United States. It remains to be seen, of course, whether these strategies, so successful for winning the election, will be sustainable during Bolsonaro’s Presidency. We are treading new territory in Brazilian politics, and the future is highly uncertain.


Dias, Tayrine dos  Santos. 2017. ‘É uma batalha de narrativas’: os enquadramentos de ação coletiva  em torno do impeachment de Dilma Rousseff no Facebook. Master’s thesis, Political Science Institute, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Edwards, Lee. 2007. “The Conservative Consensus: Frank Meyer, Barry Goldwater, and the  Politics of Fusionism.” First Principle Series, No. 8. Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation.

Gobbi, Danniel. 2016. Identidade em ambiente virtual: uma análise da Rede Estudantes                  Pela Liberdade. Master’s thesis, Political Science Institute, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Von Bülow, Marisa. 2018. “The Empowerment of Civil Society in Brazil.” Pp. 13-19 in Youngs, Richard (ed.), The Mobilization of Conservative Civil Society. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bolsonaro and the Future of Democracy in Brazil

Carlos de la Torre, University of Kentucky

Jair Bolsonaro is not your regular Latin American populist, at least until now. Contrary to leftwing populists like Hugo Chávez, he did not promise to deepen democracy and to abandon neoliberalism. His platform is law and order, and the restriction of civil, socio-economic, gender, and LGBTQ rights. Bolsonaro is not the first rightwing populist to get elected either. In the 1990s Alberto Fujimori in Perú, like Bolsonaro, combined challenges to the political establishment with neoliberal policies. Yet differently from Bolsonaro, he did not use open racism to win elections. Nor is Bolsonaro just another rightwing winner like Iván Duque in Colombia or Sebastián Piñera in Chile.

Bolsonaro is a new brand of Latin American populist because he uses nostalgia of the military dictatorship of the 1960s and 1970s to imagine a time of law and order, free of crime. His populism is a reaction to the corruption of the political establishment, especially of the leftist Worker’s Party (PT). It is also a protest to the inability of politicians to deal with a long and deep economic crisis. When the prices of commodities were high, Brazil under the PT experienced an economic bonanza, drastic reductions of poverty, and a new middle class moved out of poverty. The economic crisis, which was not well managed by the PT, threatened the status of a new and fragile middle class. Bolsonaro’s election is a white reaction to the policies of affirmative action that incorporated Afro-Brazilians to universities. It is also a conservative and fundamentalist Christian response to women’s rights and their visibility in the public sphere, and to the recognition of LGBTQ rights. He pledged to put neoliberal economists in charge to reverse the redistributive policies of the PT. He promised to open up protected areas of the Amazon rainforest to capitalist exploitation, and to get rid of conservationists and indigenous people who are resisting natural resources extraction.

As other rightwing populists, Bolsonaro is a threat to democracy, civility, and to basic values of modernity such as free and open public spheres and plural civil societies. Similarly to Trump, he promises to restore a patriarchal, heterosexual, and white-dominated past when minorities occupied subordinate roles, yet in addition he has nostalgia for dictatorship. Like Rodrigo Duterte, he wants to give impunity to the police and to vigilantes to get rid of crime. Similarly to other rightwing populists, Bolsonaro moves on a thin line between fascism and populism. Contrary to fascists that disregarded elections, populists’ claims to legitimacy lie in winning elections. Populists belong to the democratic family, yet once in power often act against pluralism, use laws instrumentally to punish critics, and restrict fundamental rights of the individual. Fascists use paramilitary and state violence to physically eliminate enemies, while populist attacks against enemies remain at the discursive and symbolic levels.

Yet Bolsonaro’s followers during the election beat up opponents, and like Trump, he opened up spaces for neo-fascists and alt-right groups. Contrary to U.S. rightwing populists, until Bolsonaro’s election, Latin American populists did not use openly racist tropes. When populists politicize race and racism, there is always a threat that it could become fascism.

It is unlikely that Bolsonaro will attempt a coup d’état. It is more likely that Brazil will experience processes of democratic erosion to restrict freedoms of expression, association, and privacy. Bolsonaro will attempt to concentrate power, and like Trump and other populists will transform political adversaries into enemies. State and paramilitary violence against indigenous people in the Amazonia, and poor and dark- skinned Brazilians in the favelas, will increase. Confrontations between his followers and the resistance to his autocratic government will further polarize a divided nation. Bolsonaro won the vote of whiter and more affluent voters in the south. Darker skinned and poor people in the northeast remained faithful to the PT. Bolsonaro got more votes from males than from women who took to the streets to protest his misogyny (Llaneras 2018).

The Brazilian election illustrates the diffusion of rightwing populism. As historian of populism and fascism Federico Finchelstein put it, Washington, DC is becoming the new center of populist diffusion. In the recent past, an openly autocratic candidate like Bolsonaro would have met with warnings from the U.S. embassy. Things are different under Trump. He admires macho autocrats, and he will probably bless Bolsonaro without making him accountable for human rights violations. Bolsonaro’s new brand of populism unfortunately might not be confined to Brazil. Would-be Bolsonaros could emerge in other nations to fight against crime and insecurity. Fundamentalists are ready to rise up to reverse women’s and LGBTQ rights. Where Bolsonaro imitators pop up, hopefully supporters of democracy will learn from the mistakes of Brazilians. Luis Ignacio da Silva, the founder of the PT that is serving time in jail for corruption, tried to run for the presidency while incarcerated and only a few months before the election named Fernando Haddad as his candidate. The non-PT political establishment reluctantly endorsed Haddad who was unable to stop Bolsonaro.

It is worth remembering that the wave of brutal military dictatorships of the 1970s started with the 1964 coup in Brazil. Nowadays democracies do not face sudden deaths. The main challenge to democracy comes from populists in power that incrementally restrict rights, concentrate power, and use laws instrumentally. Some, as Nadia Urbinati argues, disfigure democracy, while others push fragile democracies towards autocracy.


Llaneras, Kiko. 2018. “Bolsonaro divide Brasil: arrasa en los municipios más ricos y blancos.” El País.

Bolsonaro Marks a Xenophobic Turn for Brazil

Katherine Jensen, Tulane University

Commentators have rightfully underscored varied elements of Bolsonaro’s depravity. They have detailed his misogynist, racist, and homophobic record. Others have focused on his praise of the former military dictatorship, which he believes should have killed 30,000 more. He sees state and vigilante violence as fair avenues for imposing a conservative and oppressive societal order. Many have called him the “Trump of the Tropics.” He embraces the comparison. Others see him as the next Duterte.

His xenophobia has received less attention. Bolsonaro’s stances on immigration further clarify the severity of Bolsonaro’s profound departure from politics as usual in Brazil.

“The scum of the world is arriving in Brazil,” Bolsonaro bemoaned in 2015. He has pointedly named this “scum” as the “Senegalese, Haitians, Iranians, Bolivians…and now Syrians” in Brazil, and the “bad natured” people coming from North Africa. He believes Haitians are bringing diseases. Bolsonaro claims Brazil needs more armed forces in the streets to handle these immigrant and refugee communities. “We cannot put our society at the mercy of this minority, scum, who will join the other scum that’s in Brazil…to inflict terror here among us.” He declared: “We cannot allow this!”

Such statements mark a new era in Brazilian politics. Under former President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil began an open-arms migratory policy for Syrians. Since 2014, any Syrian can acquire a visa to come and obtain refugee status in Brazil. Consequently, Syrians are now the largest refugee community in the country. Brazil is the third largest recipient of Syrian refugees in the Americas, after the US and Canada. As Wael, a Syrian refugee in Rio de Janeiro, told me, “We have the freedom to work, to study, really to do what we want, because we have rights to everything.” Wael believes it is like “no other place in the world.”

Brazil has one of the fairest and most democratic asylum process in the world, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2014, 93% of asylum seekers had their refugee status claims approved. In 2017, Brazil passed a new Migration Law, finally replacing the Foreigner Statute instituted during the military dictatorship.

These formal processes have seen recent cracks from above and below. In August 2018, a judge ordered the suspension of entry of Venezuelans through the bordering state Roraima. In March, the National Committee for Refugees instituted a resolution whereby asylum seekers who have obtained residency status can have their asylum claims closed. And Brazil is no immigrant paradise. Venezuelans seeking refuge in Roraima have been terrorized by locals, their belongings set aflame. Syrian refugees have been accused of being suicide bombers. While seeking medical treatment, Hadi, another Syrian refugee living in Rio, was asked by his nurse to lift up his shirt to make sure he wasn’t carrying any bombs.

But Bolsonaro’s election marks the concretization and intensification of a new national political moment of xenophobia. Prior to Bolsonaro, Brazilian political conservatism had not been aligned with immigrant hatred in the ways with which we are familiar in the United States. Bolsonaro marks a radical departure even amongst conservative politicians in Brazil. In September 2016, then president Michel Temer spoke at a UN General Assembly meeting on migrants and refugees. Temer argued for increasing global measures to provide safe haven for immigrants. He boasted of Brazil’s welcoming of refugees. He spoke with pride as he declared at the UN that Brazil had received more than 95,000 refugees. The true number was 8,800. Temer inflated the number of refugees in Brazil by more than tenfold. Through such bombastic claims, Temer, a staunchly conservative president, sought to have Brazil stand out for its openness to immigrants, not its closures. Temer sought to position Brazil as distinct from global restrictive trends and called for other countries to be as accommodating as Brazil.

Bolsonaro marks a grave departure from the political status quo on immigration in Brazil. And he wields xenophobia as part and parcel of his broader political agenda. It provides for the co-produced denigration of “the other scum” in Brazil—“the marginals” of the Landless Workers’ Movement, for example—whom Bolsonaro decries as having immigrants in their midst. It also signals the global diffusion of a particular Islamophobic current, so ubiquitous in the United States but relatively new to and spotty in Brazil and which, frighteningly, is also an avenue for resurrecting the rhetorics of national security and domestic terrorism used by the military dictatorship to justify violent repression.

Poor, black, indigenous, and LGBTQ communities will suffer tremendously under a Bolsonaro presidency. So too will women and leftists. We should also be attuned to the threat Bolsonaro brings for the immigrant and refugee communities struggling to construct their lives anew in Brazil.


Azevedo, Rita. 2015. “Bolsonaro chama refugiados de ‘escória do mundo’.” September 22. Exame.

Cintra, Natália and Vinicius Cabral. 2018. “O Governo tem uma solução para reduzier a fila de pedidos de refúgio: Retirar direitos dos refugiados.” June 6. The Intercept Brasil.

Gazeta do Povo. 2018. “Bem antes de Trump, Bolsonaro chamou haitianos e outros imigrantes de ‘escória do mundo’.” January 15.

Nogueira, Maria Beatriz and Carla Cristina Marques. 2008. “Brazil: ten years of refugee protection.” Forced Migration Review 30(April):57-58.

Romero, Simon. 2016. “Conservative’s Star Rises in Brazil as Polarizing Views Tap Into Discontent.” May 7. New York Times.

UNHCR. 2016. “Dados sobre refúgio no Brasil.”