political science

Made the headlines? It’s going to happen, then

Study reveals how, in the 2000 elections, the press was fundamental in the final result of the contest between Maluf and Marta Suplicy for the São Paulo City Hall

If the presidential candidates and their advisors think that they understand what the voters’ mind, the owner of the vote may yet reserve some surprises. A new study about the behavior of the voters in the São Paulo municipal elections of 2000, which Paulo Maluf (PPB – Brazilian Progressive party – right wing) and Marta Suplicy (PT – The Worker’s Party, left wing) ran, shows that voters act in an ideological arena, which runs against the trend for growing depoliticization and disinterest in the modern voter. This is one of the conclusions of the project Media, Electoral Campaign and Political Behavior in São Paulo, financed by FAPESP and coordinated by political scientist Vera Chaia, from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).

For the researchers, the polarization between Malufism and PTism, dictated by political and ethical options, was strongly influenced by the media: because the newspapers and the TVs ended up, in some way, supplying the voters with the information needed to locate the candidates in the political spectrum (and the neutrality of the broadcast news programs and newspapers made this possible); either because they play a monitoring role, at a time that the party political institutions themselves are lax; or, then, by the space set aside by law for free electoral propaganda – which, in a way, also has the role of giving back to the political parties control over their candidates.

The project is the first one to systematically follow the elections in the city and the state of São Paulo and to incorporate the influence of the media on the process of the voter’s choice, for an analysis of the modern electoral scenario. In the 2002 elections, the subject for study will be the São Paulo State elections.

Although the tendency for political science in general is to give priority to analyzing federal elections, in particular those to chose the president of the republic, accompanying the São Paulo elections constitutes, in itself, a significant sampling of the country’s politics and parties and political scenario. The state of São Paulo concentrated 22% of the Brazilianelectorate in the 2000 elections. Besides the magnitude of its electorate, its capital city is a political laboratory in itself: in 2000, the city of São Paulo had over 7 million voters, a number higher than that of 23 of the 27 Brazilian states.

The fact that the vote in São Paulo has taken on an ideological nature, running counter to the lack of interest in the electorate nationally, is a proof that the São Paulo city dwellers are, to say the least, protagonists in an interesting case of politics. Since 1988, a growing process of polarization has been taking place between Malufism and PT in the elections in the state capital. Maluf won a place to compete in the second round of the 2000 elections with the candidate from the PT, at a moment that anti-Malufism was exacerbated by denunciations of corruption against the candidate and Celso Pitta, installed in the city hall and supported by him. It showed that São Paulo electors make an ideological option and take as a point of reference the parties or party political leaderships identified with a given segment of political thought, according to an article written by the eight hands of the coordinators of the subprojects – Vera Chaia, Fernando Antônio Azevedo, Rogério Schmitt and Rachel Meneguello.

For the authors, the ideological bent of the São Paulo voter becomes more evident when polls and party political preferences are listed. Running counter to modern democracies, which register a high potential for personalism in their elections, the PT, as a party, had the voting intentions of 25.4% of the voters. In the polls that crossed data on voting intentions and party political preferences, the candidate/party relationship was clear to the voter. “These associations make it possible to recognize in São Paulo the occupation of clear ideological spaces, with established party political structures and leaderships, which makes it possible to say that, in São Paulo, ideological inclinations play a role in the dynamics of political choices”, claim the researchers in the article.

The media play a fundamental role in the ideological and party political arrangement in São Paulo. Free electoral propaganda, according to an accompaniment of the electoral surveys carried out by Rachel Meneguello, from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), is the voter’s main source of political information. The greater or lesser exposure of a candidate to proportional elections (in the case of 2000, for city councilors), ended up being the determinant factor for being elected, according to the conclusions of political scientist Rogério Schmitt – who joined the project as a visiting professor from the University of São Paulo (USP) and is today the coordinator of the São Paulo Sociology and Politics School.

Schmitt, who used the São Paulo laboratory to study the influence of free electoral propaganda on proportional elections, concluded that this vehicle of communication with the voter ends up being used by the parties as a partisan “filter”. By monopolizing the strategic decisions as to broadcasting or not proportional candidates, the parties are in fact drawing up party political lists. Being a member of a party therefore binds the councilors’ electoral propaganda to a strategy for the party political campaign on TV, and this ends up neutralizing the personalist nature of choice that is intrinsic to the proportional electoral system adopted in Brazil.

Moved by competition, the O Estado de S.Paulo and Folha de S.Paulo newspapers kept a relatively neutral position in the dispute. Fernando Antônio Azevedo, from the Federal University of São Carlos, reached this conclusion after assessing the informative content of the papers during the electoral period. The greater exposure of the PPB candidate Paulo Maluf in these papers did not mean favoring the candidate; over the period, he was a target for several corruption charges. In the second round of the elections, neutrality gave way to a slight favoring of Marta Suplicy, who won the elections.

Competition, however, should not be sufficient to guarantee the pattern of neutrality of São Paulo newspapers in this year’s elections. Azevedo, who is now monitoring the cover the papers are giving to these elections, has seen at the outset that the PSDB candidate, José Serra, has been benefited in the electoral cover of the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper. The assessment covers the news items, not the editorials. In addition, the media have been strongly affected by pressures from two kinds of players: the political players (the forces linked to the coalition that supports the PSDB candidate), and the financial market and its speculators. “The newspapers have, to a greater or lesser degree, transmitted these pressures, in accordance with their electoral interests”, says Azevedo.

This is translated into what the organs of the press and the financial market have agreed to call the “Lula Risk”, that is, the danger of the “Argentinization” of Brazil, in the case of a PT victory in the presidential elections. Azevedo has identified the beginning of a stage subsequent to that of the “Lula Risk”, the dossier stage. “There is a clear concern in the media to show that the PT is not the clean hands of politics”.

The outbreak of scandals involving Maluf and Pitta in the 2000 elections also influenced the television news programs. According to Vera Chaia, Maluf had more exposure than Marta in the television news programs, but this is far from meaning that the candidate was favored by the broadcasters. In the same way as in the papers, the extra space thatthe PPB candidate won did not correspond to a positive valuation of the candidate.

In the case of Brazil, and of the election now under analysis, in 2000, the coordinator of the sub-project focused on the study of the radio and television programs points out an important restrictive element for the workings of the mass communication media in the country: the electoral legislation. Vera recalls that, in those elections, the electoral legislation was extremely strict with the broadcasting of election news by the radio and television stations, which inhibited the cover of the first round of the elections. In the second round, with 14 of the 16 candidates eliminated from the contest, the TVs were able to give a more balanced approach to the two remaining candidates, Maluf, of the PPB, and Marta, of the PT.

The strictness of the electoral legislation, if in the first round it deterred journalistic cover, in the strict sense, it made the publication of the electoral polls a constant in the news section. Using Mauro Porto’s concept in her preliminary report on the news programs of the electronic media in the 2000 municipal elections, Vera Chaia claims that a “horse race” approach was adopted, that is, the emphasis was given to who was making headway or falling behind, like a horse race commentary.

Media and politics
According to the project approved by FAPESP, there is an almost consensual acceptance among political scientists that “modern society and democracy are media driven”. Which means that sociability and the way of making politics today is done through the media. The second premise of the project, which is also hallowed by modern authors, is that “the means of communication, like government and interest groups, are capable of proposing and laying down public and government agendas and, hence, of influencing political attitudes and electoral behavior”. It was the option of the project to take the media as “political players”.

Both the analysis of the election cover by the papers and the radio and TV programs set off with the concept of agenda setting, that is, that the media, editing the news, are actually building a reality according to their own standards of relevance. It is an approach to reality that escapes the choice of the reader, the listener and the TV viewer, and which influences them. In this context, the media ends up incorporating political roles of monitoring and control, in the light of the crisis in the political parties; and at the same time it ends up being responsible for changes in the political process.

The studies on the São Paulo electoral profile, the electoral and political and parties scene and the media in São Paulo at some point in time are going to meet similar projects that are being carried out in other states. The idea arose at the 23rd National Encounter of the National Association of Research and Postgraduate Studies in Social Sciences (Anpocs), which took place in Caxambu (Minas Gerais), in 1999. On that occasion, researchers from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul decided simultaneously to apply to research support agencies for finance for projects to accompany the elections in these states, to collate the regional cases later and to compare the data. The project, which started in 2000, will end in 2004.

The project
Media, Electoral Campaign and Political Behavior in São Paulo (nº 00/02990-8); Modality Thematic project; Coordinator Vera Chaia – Human and Social Sciences – Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP); Investment R$ 105,422.00