The profile of Brazilian political parties

Study reveals that the political parties profile is consistent with the social-occupational composition of the parliamentary benches

One is wrong when one thinks that the party political scenario in Brazil is fragmented and fragile, without ideological or political program consistency. On the contrary: it has clear contours that are congruent with its parliamentary representations. An X-ray of the social-occupational composition of the members of the current legislature in the Federal Chamber of Deputies (1999-2003), carried out by Leôncio Martins Rodrigues, with FAPESP’s support, demonstrates that the parties are strong, structured and well rooted in society. The proof of this is that in the elections of October 1998 the origin and the social-economic status of the candidate played a part in the candidate’s party choosing.

The study, whose results will be published by the Editora da Universidade de São Paulo (Publishing House of the University of São Paulo – Edusp) in June, with the title Partidos, Ideologia e Composição Social (Parties, Ideology and Social Composition), analyzed the occupations and professions of the parliamentarians of the six major parties with representation in the Federal Chamber of Deputies: the PFL, PSDB, PMDB, PPB, PT and the PDT *. “In order to avoid a loss of time with a non-essential debate for the study”, explains Martins Rodrigues, the parties were grouped according to their ideological orientation starting from everyday criteria used by a large number of researchers and by the media: PFL and PPB on the political right; PSDB and PMDB, in the center; and PT and PDT on the left.

“We had hoped to find, as in fact we did, a significant difference in the proportion of the occupational groups in the interior of the party blocs”, he explains. The data revealed that the parties on the right tend to recruit their representatives from the highest income brackets, from among businessmen and from the top scale of public administration; in the left wing parties salaried people and the middle class and professionals prevail and the center parties, in spite of being the most heterogeneous, are mainly formed by liberal professionals,executives and company directors.

Political sociology of the parties
Martins Rodrigues, who is a professor at the Political Science Department of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), had previously observed an ideological consistency in the make up of the party representation of the Chamber of Deputies in 1987 when he carried out a socio-political analysis of the parties and deputies who, at that time, were members of the National Constitution Assembly. The results of that study were published in Who’s Who in the Constitution. In the research into the current legislature, the new detail was in the methodology of the data collection. “In my first study, the parliamentarians themselves indicated their profession or occupation. Now, the great task of the research was to discover the occupations and professions of the deputies”, he tells.

The information on the parliamentarians of the selected parties was taken from the publication Brazilian Deputies 1999-2003 – Biographical Repertory, edited by the Chamber of Deputies itself; from the Dictionary of Brazilian Politics of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation; and through a careful analysis of the four hundred and one assets statements that the then candidates presented to the Regional Electoral Courts of their states. “This information on their assets is public and accessible to anyone with an interest”, he emphasizes. The occupations/professions were, from that point on, classified by the career of the parliamentarian. “I made a type of model to standardize the data collection.

It had a classification matrix that allowed me to observe the congruency between information coming from various sources. The main criteria was the last profession declared before the candidate entered politics, assuming that he had effectively exercised it.” For example, this standard of classification allowed for the identification of the parliamentarians recruited from the federal and state public administrations and teachers, two categories that generally didn’t appear in research and which, as he verified, have a dominant role in the composition of the representation of the Chamber. This research methodology proved to be strategic for the task and he intended to carry out, “More than just political science, I wanted to carry out a political sociology study of the Brazilian political parties.”

The socio-occupational analysis of the deputies revealed the profile of the six major Brazilian political parties. In the PPB and the PFL, businessmen make up the predominant category (68% and 61% respectively). Also in the PFL the presence of parliamentarians recruited from the upper levels of federal and state bureaucracy is very strong. These two parties have their members in the highest income brackets.

The socio-economic profile of the PMDB is less well defined. The fraction of businessmen is predominant, but not the majority, and the proportion of liberal professionals, of deputies who had intellectual professions and teachers is also high. On the other hand, the proportion of PMDB parliamentarians in the wealthy bracket (16%) – in spite of occupying third place among the parties analyzed – is very distant from the PFL (29%) and the PPB (22%). “This distribution of the forces among socio-occupational categories suggests, in a comparison with other parties, an organization with greater difficulty for the definition of interests, maintenance of ideological cohesion, of internal discipline and with more conflicts between factions”, evaluates Martins Rodrigues.

The dominant social composition in the PSDB is formed by intellectuality of high income and urban business sectors, which in spite of their minority, have an important role in the composition of the bloc in the Chamber of Deputies. “The parts of the intelligentsia who, over these last few years, rose politically, economically and socially are linked to a fraction of the illustrated business classes”, he explains. However, the intellectual faction is dominant and seems to set the tone of the party.

Intellectuality is also the socio-occupational category in the PT. In this case, it appears as an important fraction, in spite of being in the minority. The majority is the popular classes, here in defined as being formed by blue-collar and white collars workers and rural workers. There are practically no businessmen in the make-up of the party’s deputies. “The dominant composition is made of the intelligentsia and by sectors of the working classes who have climbed through the unions – generally those of the metal workers – and white-collar employees – often bank workers”, explains Martins Rodrigues.

The analysis of these social categories, from the wealth point of view, suggests that the PT intelligentsia, different from the Toucans of the PSDB (The Toucan is the symbol of the party and members are often referred to as toucans), have their origin in the lowest brackets and in the relatively cultured middle classes. “Therefore, one is dealing with groups with marked status incongruence before their ascension to the political class, which would explain the preference for a left wing party and the alliance with sectors of the working classes in ascension”, he analyzes.

The PDT representation is formed by few businessmen. Not one of their parliamentarians was recruited from the working classes and an inexpressive number are former public employees. The dominant social composition is formed by a group of liberal professionals followed by a small group of urban businessmen.

The evaluation of the level of schooling of the parliamentarians reinforces the characterization of their parties. At least 82% of the deputies are graduates, data that, in the evaluation of Martins Rodrigues, indicates that people with a low level of education have little chance of getting into the Chamber of Deputies. From the total of all of the parties analyzed, only 4% had not finished high school. “Comparatively speaking, the parties more to the left have more parliamentarians with completed masters and/or doctorate degrees than those of the right wing parties”, he says.

The PT has the highest percentage of deputies with post-graduation and, in contrast, is that which has the highest proportion of parliamentarians with the lowest level of schooling. “The discrepancy in the educational formation of the PT parliamentarians can be explained by the strong presence, on the one hand, of professors in their ranks, and on the other, by the number of skilled labor and workers with little schooling”, he explains.

The PPB, which brings together the highest proportion of businessmen and of wealthy deputies, is the second party, after the PT, in percentage of parliamentarians without college education. It is interesting tonote that, in all of the six parties, the proportion of deputies graduated as lawyers is much higher than those that possess other diplomas at tertiary level.

Income and status
The parties are also different whenone takes into account the declared wealth of their parliamentarians. Martins Rodrigues analyzed the asset statements of four hundred and one of the five hundred and three deputies. “We are not talking about a sample, albeit that six states of the Federation remained excluded”, he warns. The data, nevertheless, suggests tendencies. More than half of the four hundred and one deputies are in the bracket of lower to middle wealth (from R$200,000 to less than R$500,000) and low wealth (less than R$200,000).

In the richer bracket of high patrimony were placed 16% of the total number of parliamentarians. Also in this analysis he noticed that, if one moves from the right to the left of the ideological spectrum, the percentage of deputies in the bands of the most elevated patrimonial wealth tends to decrease as one goes from group to group. The PFL and the PPB, who have an expressive numbers of businessmen, have more deputies in the upper wealth groups.

The parties with the least number of businessmen, he observes, have a lower proportion of wealthy parliamentarians, such as the PMDB and the PSDB. It is these parties with insignificant business representation that bring together deputies with the fewest assets. “Under this focus, and in a caricature mode, the PFL and the PPB would be the ‘high class’ parties; the PMDB and the PSDB, the ‘middle class’; and the PDT and the PT the ‘low class’.” He emphasizes, nonetheless, that the PDT, under the wealth prism, is much closer to the PSDB and the PMDB than the PT, which suggests the concept of the PDT as towards the center-left.

Martins Rodrigues also observed that the deputies’ wealth tended to rise with their time in the Chamber: 41% of the poorer parliamentarians with their first Federal term. At the other extreme, 31% of those who had had four or more terms were in the band of the high patrimony. “There are many indications, although not offered in this study, that the very activity of politics, even when exercised according to the canons of respectability and decency, makes possible not only an increase in power, of influence and of status, but also of income and assets”, it is the point he makes.

Political fights
The collection of data analyzed shows that the six parties are not equal among themselves, not only as far as ideology, but also as to the social segments represented by them. “This sociological face allows us to say that the in-party conflicts and the political fights in the Chamber of Deputies have an elevated coefficient of correspondence with the social compositions of the parties.”

Martins Rodrigues, throughout all of the study, spoke with Brazilian analysts and Brazilianists, questioning pessimistic evaluations which, for example, say that the Brazilian party political system is marked by lack of discipline, party disloyalty, and by inappropriate alliances. For example, it is supported by recent research to state that the alliances are not by chance. “In the majority of cases deals were made between parties with some ideological affinity: right wing parties amongst themselves; right wing parties with parties from the center left; parties from the left among themselves and parties from the left with parties from the center left.”

In his study, Martins Rodrigues, who is a retired professor of Political Science at the University of São Paulo, went even further: he analyzed the socio-economic make-up of the elected representatives of all the eighteen parties with representation in the Chamber of Deputies, from the point of view of the regions and states that they represent. “There are lots of differences as to the levels of modernization of the regions of the country and as to the regional political configurations”, he explains. The presupposition was that, in the areas with lower levels of modernization and development, the higher classes represent the majority part of the political class.

However, the relationship between the degrees of modernization and composition of the local political class reveals itself to be more complex. For example, it was verified that the business group has more weight in the South than in the Southeast, although this region is more developed and modernized. “The determining factor is the force of each party in the region and in the states”, he says. And he explains: if an occupational segment is expressive within a party, and the party is strong within the region, this occupational segment will also tend to be highly representative of the political blocs of the region or of the state.

In the New North, as he classifies the region formed by the states of Acre, Roraima, Amapá, Rondônia and Tocantins, businessmen represent half of the deputies, followed by groups formed by ex-public employees. In the Old North, the states of Amazonas and Pará, businessmen prevail. In the Northeast, in spite of the regional matrices, businessmen also make up the largest weighty group and it is this region that has the highest participation of this category of occupation in the Chamber of Deputies. In all deputies from the region there is no deputy recruited from the working classes.

In the Southeast region, the political group with the largest proportion of businessmen is from the state of Minas Gerais. In this representation, what also calls one’s attention is the number of Federal deputies that were previously directors of state banks and the fact that the political group doesn’t have a single representative from the working classes. The São Paulo deputies are formed by 40% businessmen and have the largest proportion of former teacher deputies. Rio de Janeiro brings together the largest number of representatives that have come from the public sector. In the State of Espírito Santo, the majority is made up of businessmen and the liberal professionals.

In the Southern States the proportion of parliamentarians linked to the pubic sector is low, and the political group with the highest representation of businessmen is from Paraná. In Santa Catarina, the number of deputies who were, before their term, traditional liberal professions is expressive, and in Rio Grande do Sul, it is for the number of ex-teaching professionals. Currently in the Central West, almost half of the deputies are or were businessmen.

The examination of the regional differences in the socio-economic composition of the political groups brings out a complex picture, which as he stated “cannot be directly deduced from levels of economic development and of local modernization. However, the levels of economic development and of modernization can contribute, if you preserve prudence, to the understanding of the performance of the parties and ideological blocks in the different regions. The parties more to the right tend to obtain better results in the regions that are less developed, in this case the North and Northeast. And the parties of the centerand of the left tend to come up with better results in the more modernized regions, especially inthe Southeast.

“The aspect which calls most attention when one focuses on the regional force of each party, measured by the proportion of seats obtained in each area, is the absolute preponderance of the PFL in the North and the Northeast. From these regions come 44% of the PFL’s parliamentarians”, observes Martins Rodrigues. In the Southeast, the imbalance of the parties is not so strong: the PPB, PMDB, PSDB and the PT have, in their groups in the Chamber of Deputies, more than 40% of the seats occupied by representatives of that region.

Martins Rodrigues evaluated the dimension of the regional influence of the political parties using different methodologies, in such a way as to eliminate the bias of analysis coming from the size of electoral districts and the differences in the proportion of deputies per region. He confirmed the preponderant position of the PFL in the North and the Northeast; of the PSDB in the Southeast and of the PMDB in the South, followed closely by the PPB and the PT. In the Center-West the best results came from the PMDB and the PSDB.

Electoral performance
Martins Rodrigues went even further: he carried out a comparison of the performance of the six political parties during the last three elections and from this analysis highlighted significant aspects. The PSDB and the PT form the two parties that have grown stronger and more constant. Also it was verified, although to a lesser degree, the growth of the PFL group of deputies in the Chamber. The data registered a small decline of the PPB and a strong and constant decline of the PMDB and the PDT. “Coincidentally, there was a growth in one of the parties of the ideological tendencies – right, center and left -, or that is to say, of the PFL, the PSDB and the PT. The other parties with the same ideological opinions lost parliamentary space”, he observes.

The results suggest that, in the consolidation of the Brazilian party system, each one of the three ideological camps is threatened to be occupied by one single party. In the block on the right, the PFL appears to be beating the PPB. “Both are parties formed in the majority by businessmen. However, the PPB of Paulo Maluf (Former Governor of the state of São Paulo), in São Paulo, formed by a new elite of businessmen, attempted to take over the old traditional elite in political performance and ended up not making a strong impact on the traditional elite”, he analyzes. In the block on the left, the PT scored a goal. “The party was born with a strong union base and today is a type of Christian Democracy of the left. The militants who had left small parties on the left, also helped the PT to grow. On the other hand, the PDT doesn’t have a union base. Today, there is a process of enlargement and strengthening of the unions and the PT has been the channel of representation within this category.”

At the conclusion of this chapter, he risked a prognosis: the consolidation of the PMDB as a medium sized party; the continuation of the PDT’s decline; the consolidation of the supremacy of the PFL in the field of the right; a swift decline of the PPB; the growth of the PSDB; an advance of the PT in the field of the left, in detriment to the PDT. He further believes in a reduction of the number of effective parties in the Chamber of Deputies, in spite of the persistency of small parties.

PFL – Partido da Frente Liberal (The Liberal Front Party )
PSDB -Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (The Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy)
PMDB -Partido da Movimento Democrático Brasileiro ( The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party )
PPB Partido Progressista Brasileiro ( The Brazilian Progressive Party )
PT Partido dos Trabalhadores ( The Workers’ Party )
PDT Partido Democrático Brasileiro ( The Democratic Labor Party )

The project
The Social Composition of the Leadership of Six Political Parties (99/08363-6); Modality: Regular line of research assistance; Coordinator: Leôncio Martins Rodrigues – Center of Human and Social Sciences – Unicamp; Investment: R$ 32,807.00