Brazil hosted – and won for the fourth time - the Confederation Cup last month, a sort of practice run for the FIFA World Cup to be held in Brazil in 2014. But outside Maracana stadium in Rio and in several cities across the country, Brazilians took to the streets in what many consider the largest protest movement in Brazil in decades. More than one million demonstrated nationwide in June. While a hike in transit fares was the tipping point that set off the protests, other rallying points included complaints about government spending on the 2014 World Cup instead of on social services improvements and criticism of government corruption. In a video posted on YouTube the former soccer star and current congressman Romário expressed support for the demonstrations and said the money spent on stadiums so far in preparations for the world cup was enough to provide “8,000 new schools, 39,000 school buses, or 28,000 sports courts in the whole country.”
Two Brazilian surveys commissioned by CNT, a private sector transport lobby, indicated widespread support for the demonstrations among the Brazilian public. CNT represents mass-transportation and other companies and has run similar polls since 1998. A spokesperson stated it had no role in the June protests against a mass-transport-fare increase that escalated grew into nationwide demonstrations.
The most recent survey commissioned by CNT was conducted by the polling firm MDA Pesquisa between July 1 and 5, 2013 among 2010 Brazilians in 134 municipalities (20/27 states). It found that 84 percent of Brazilians approve of the street protests, with 12 percent claiming to have taken part personally. A smaller and less representative June 27-28 IBOPE survey among 1008 people in just 79 municipalities reported that 75 percent supported the protests and 6 percent said they participated.
According to the MDA survey respondents, the key motivations behind the protests were dissatisfaction with corruption (55%), the quality of healthcare (47%), expenses related to the World Cup (44%), the quality of urban transport (31%), education (31%), and public safety (21%); respondents were allowed to give multiple responses, so totals are greater than 100%.
In the IBOPE survey, most indicated that the primary motivations were transport-related: either the increase in traffic fares (59%) or discontent with the bus companies (18%). In total, half mentioned dissatisfaction with politicians (18%) or government (8%) in general, and a scattering of specific politicians (i.e. 7% named the Federal Government/President of the Republic). One in three each mentioned corruption (32%) and a need for greater investment in healthcare and education (31%). (The IBOPE poll posed an open-ended question while the MDA question presented specific options which might help explain why there are some differences, along with differing sample designs).
Despite some complaints from protesters about the government expenditures toward the World Cup and Olympics, IBOPE found a majority “totally” or partially” support holding the 2014 World Cup (44% totally, 27% partially) and the 2016 Olympics (43% totally, 27% partially) in their country.
President Rouseff expressed some support for the demonstrations as they were occurring, at the same time warning against any escalating violence. “Brazil fought a lot to become a democratic country, and it is fighting a lot to become a country that is more just,”Rousseff said in a televised address. Reflecting the protesters’ discontent with current government policies, she initially proposed a constituent assembly to overhaul the country's political system, but withdrew the plan a day later after it met widespread opposition, including among her fellow PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers Party) party members. Transit fare increases have been postponed, and the Brazilian Congress passed a series of bills to focus on some of the protesters’ issues, and in a rare move, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of a lower house representative convicted of corruption.
Rousseff currently seeks congressional support for a non-binding plebiscite to ask Brazilians their views on how the political system should be changed. In the MDA poll, 68 percent of respondents said they backed the idea of this referendum. Rousseff also proposed to hire thousands of foreign doctors to strengthen the public health system, though opinion on this proposal is fairly divided (50% favor vs. 47% oppose), according to the survey. In early July, Brazilian doctors in several cities held protests opposing the hiring of foreign physicians.
Despite these efforts to address some of the protesters demands, the MDA poll showed that positive ratings of Rousseff’s government have dropped sharply from 54 percent in June to 31 percent in July. Another June 27-28 survey conducted by the Brazilian research firm Datafolha among 4717 Brazilians in 196 municipalities found that in the most likely scenario thus far for presidential elections in October 2014, Rousseff is still ahead (30%), followed by Marina Silva (23%), a former Brazilian environment minister, and Aecio Neves (17%), a former governor of Minas Gerais state and leader of Brazil's main opposition party, the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democrats). But her share of the vote has slumped dramatically from March 2013, while the shares of both Silva and Neves have increased since March, as have the percentage that say they won't vote for any of these candidates (see Figure above). If Lula were to run again (in place of Rousseff), he would garner 46% of the vote in the same scenario, though his support also slipped from 60% in March.