21 Oct

Digital participation of Evangelical influencers predominates on Instagram and Youtube, but with no support for a particular candidate

Updated 29 de October, 2020 at 2:46 pm

  • A monitoring by FGV DAPP surveyed profiles and pages of pastors, churches, representatives and Evangelical leaders on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube between September 21 and October 20 in association with the discussion about the elections in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. However, neither Celso Russomanno nor Marcelo Crivella have a strong support group composed of religious influencers in any of the platforms;
  • There is a very low direct presence of channels and pages of Evangelical influencers in the electoral scenario of both capitals so far, even though they are generally very active in the political debate and usually have a much higher impact than Catholic groups. 
  • On Youtube, however, conservative Catholic influencers and biblical pages have been working together with the federal government support group to criticize governor João Doria in particular, nationalizing the political debate.
  • On Instagram, the electoral debate is also very nationalized regarding São Paulo, but not as much regarding Rio de Janeiro. A monitoring of pages of representatives from the Evangelical caucus shows a strong participation of Eduardo Bolsonaro, Carla Zambelli and Bia Kicis in rejecting Doria and the candidate for mayor of São Paulo, Joice Hasselmann (PSL). 
  • In Rio de Janeiro, the digital participation of Benedita da Silva (PT) is an exception inside the left wing, but with a low amount of religious content even though the congresswoman is Evangelical.

The religious, conservative and traditional agenda has national strength inside the polarized Brazilian political debate and stands out on the social networks due to the presence of two important candidates in the municipal elections of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. On one side there is the current mayor who is running for re-election, Marcelo Crivella, a licensed bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. On the other side there is the congressman Celso Russomanno, who has been leading the opinion polls in São Paulo so far and is a Catholic with strong representative participation regarding the religious agenda, although he is not an official member of the Evangelical caucus. However, contrary to expectations, there has not been a significant participation of religious influencers on the major social networks in Brazil so far, particularly coming from Evangelical groups, to support Crivella or Russomanno. Christian pastors, priests, churches and pages have been discreet regarding the electoral discussion and are maintaining a distance from the municipal agenda, although they are still closely aligned with the federal government support group. 

A data collection by FGV DAPP between September 21 and October 20 looked for the presence of religious influencers in the public debate about the municipal elections in São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and Instagram. For Facebook and Instagram, the search included publications in the official pages of representative members of the Evangelical caucus, looking for direct participations in the campaigns. Despite the low level of participation, there are important exceptions and different positions in the two biggest cities in the country, especially considering the ongoing participation of pastor Silas Malafaia, the only religious leader who is directly affiliated to a church whose channel was found in the map of the political and electoral debate on Youtube.

From a database of 2.2 posts of Twitter about the elections in the period, we found only 3 leaders of strict religious association among the major influencers (the 3 from the federal government support group who mostly support the congressman Luiz Lima as a candidate for mayor of Rio de Janeiro): Crivella himself, the congressman Otoni de Paula (who opposes the current mayor), and the congressman Cabo Junio, who is present due to the nationalization of the electoral agenda to support candidates aligned with President Jair Bolsonaro.

On Youtube, conservative Catholics and biblical channels participate of the pro-government group

On Youtube, the main platform on social networks in terms of participation of religious channels and profiles, particularly Evangelical, the presence of these influencers in the electoral discussion was equally discreet, but with a higher impact than what was seen on Twitter. There profiles were once again present in the network of content dissemination aligned with the federal government and participated mostly in the discussion of conservative agendas on the national level, such as opposing abortion and mandatory vaccination, and in attacks against the left wing, which is seen as a potential promoter of moral changes if it wins in the municipal elections.

Religious channels of the electoral debate on Youtube

Source: Youtube | Elaborated by: FGV DAPP

A database mapping with more than 250 thousand videos with political and electoral content across more than 15 thousand channels registered only 11 channels with explicit religious association in the context of the electoral races in Rio and São Paulo. Even then, they presented discussions on the national level, repositioning the defense of conservatism to the municipal races. The main influencer is the conservative Catholic and “philosopher” Canal Professor Bellei, who is aligned with the group that follows Olavo de Carvalho and supports the government, and whose videos comment mostly the US elections and their impact for Brazil, with an aggressive anti-China discourse. In this context, the channel is part of a strong network of criticism against the governor of São Paulo, João Doria, e against PSDB, the party of the candidate running for re-election, Bruno Covas. 

Instagram sees anti-Joice campaign in São Paulo while Benedita is an isolated highlight for the left wing in Rio

The nationalization of the electoral debate was also clearly present on Instagram. From a collection of publications made by all congress representatives integrating the Evangelical caucus, filtering for municipal elections in both capitals, the protagonists in the race in São Paulo are Eduardo Bolsonaro, Carla Zambelli and Bia Kicis, who are members of the Evangelical caucus but are not directly connected to religious denominations. Among the 50 posts with the highest volume of interactions on the platform associated with the elections, 44 were made by one of those 3 representatives and based on two main narratives: criticizing Joice Hasselmann and making negative comments about Doria.

In Rio de Janeiro, however, the discussion is much more regionalized, with many representatives in an active electoral campaign for the capital’s metropolitan region and the presence of a single left-wing Evangelical influencer, the PT congresswoman Benedita da Silva, who is running for mayor of the city. Although she is a member of the Evangelical caucus, Benedita does not have a discourse like that of the other representatives; even on Instagram, she does not take a directly religious approach to political agendas and topics. Other important names on the political scene in Rio de Janeiro are also influencing the discussion, such as candidate Clarissa Garotinho and congressman Sóstenes Cavalcante. Another highlight is the lack of direct support for Crivella by any of the top 10 influencers, including representative Major Fabiana, who had been close to joining the current mayor as vice.

Members of the Evangelical caucus with the most influence on Instagram (SP and RJ)