Amy Erica Smith of The Conversation writes that religion has played a big part in Brazil’s ongoing presidential election.
As in the United States, evangelicalism has been on the rise in Brazil although there are several notable differences compared to American politics. Brazil remains a historically Catholic nation, although the total number who identify as Catholic has fallen to just over half of the population since the 1970s. The new “evangelico” voting bloc is all over the political spectrum, with both conservative and progressive factions
With one week to go before Brazil’s presidential election, the two front-runners are battling for the religious vote.
Last month, first lady Michelle Bolsonaro told an evangelical church service that the presidential palace had been “consecrated to demons” under previous presidential administrations – a gibe against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, and his center-left Workers’ Party.
Lula is running again in this year’s election, whose first round is Oct. 2, 2022, and has joined the fray. In his official campaign kickoff in August 2022, for instance, he alleged that the right-wing current president, Jair Bolsonaro, is “possessed by the devil.”
Religious voters are an important part of the story. Bolsonaro – whom international media dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics” for his persona as a conservative firebrand, his anti-democratic streak, and his ability to attract a Christian base – garnered 70% of evangelical support in the 2018 election. Scholars, including me, argue that without the evangelical vote, he would have narrowly lost.
In Latin America, traditionally a Catholic stronghold, the Spanish and Portuguese term “evangelico” is applied to nearly all non-Catholic Christians, including Protestant denominations that are usually classified as “mainline” or even “progressive” in the U.S. Estimates indicate that around a third of Brazilians identify as evangelical today, up from just a few percentage points in 1970. In the same period, the percentage of Catholics has fallen from over 90% to right about half.
By contrast, in the U.S. the term “evangelical” is reserved for theologically conservative Protestant groups, as well as Christians who have had a “born-again” experience of religious awakening. Americans also increasingly apply the term “evangelical” in a political sense, to refer to predominantly white political conservatives who are affiliated with Protestant churches.