From Flyer to Flyer: An Analysis of the 2018 Elections in the Maré Favelas

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For the original article in Portuguese published by data_labe, click here. Reporting by Hannah de Vasconcellos and Fernanda Távora in collaboration with Juliana Marques (data), Pedro Lira (editing), and Giulia Santos (graphics).

Getting out the vote—the elections and electoral strategies in Maré, as seen through the distribution of campaign flyers in the favela complex bordering Avenida Brasil in Rio de Janeiro

During times of elections, the city’s streets are routinely filled with candidates’ campaign flyers—the famous santinhos. In Complexo da Maré in Rio’s North Zone, it is almost impossible to walk across one of the pedestrian overpasses on Avenida Brasil without being handed a campaign flyer with the party, platform, slogan, and face of a candidate running for office. This tradition of distributing campaign flyers across the city is evidenced by the percentage of campaign funds spent on graphic materials: in the previous elections, in 2014, the cost corresponded to approximately 20% of the electoral campaign budget in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The large number of campaign banners and pamphlets scattered throughout the region shows that candidates see the area as an important electoral battleground. The three electoral zones in the area include residents of the neighborhoods of Bonsuccesso, Maré, Olaria, and Ramos, totaling 350,532 voters—a significant number of people who are eligible to participate in the elections.

To understand more about this political dynamic, the data_labe team collected flyers belonging to 28 candidates who campaigned in the region. During the process, two candidacies were rejected, and 26 candidates were analyzed. Among these candidates, ten ran for state representative, fourteen for federal representative, and one for the Senate. Among the candidates for governor of Rio de Janeiro, only one appeared in the flyers collected.


According to the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) database, fifteen of the 26 candidates self-identified as white, while ten self-identified as black—that is, 44% of the candidates who campaigned in Maré belong to the 55.9% of the Brazilian population who identify as black. This proportion is close to the national average: in 2014, when the TSE began to register how candidates self-identify, the percentage of black candidates was 44.3%. In 2018, within a pool of over 28,000 candidates, 12,900 self-identified as black, approximately 46.2% of the total. However, this increase of 1.9% did not correspond to the national increase in black self-identification: between 2012 and 2016, the number of Brazilians self-identifying as black rose 14.9% across the country. In Maré, just over 62% of the population self-identify as black according to the most recent Maré Census, carried out by Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré (Maré Development Networks NGO) in 2011. However, securing black candidacies does not guarantee that these candidates will be elected.


In the three electoral zones selected for analysis, 55% of the electorate is female. In a territory in which more than half of the voters are women, this proportion was not reflected in the candidates: only seven candidates were female, corresponding to 28% of the 26 candidates selected for analysis. In the national context—the number of women candidates across all of Brazil—women represented 30% of candidates in the past two electoral cycles, 2014 and 2018.

That exact same percentage in both election years is no coincidence. In 1997, Electoral Law 9.504 was passed, establishing that political parties and coalitions must have a minimum of 30% female candidates for legislative positions. Data show that parties opt for the minimum number of female candidates. In addition, the law only pertains to candidacies and thus there is no guarantee that these women will be elected to office. The phenomenon of phantom candidacies (known as candidatas laranjasor “orange candidates”) shows that parties are more concerned with meeting the quota for female candidates stipulated by law than they are with actually supporting their candidacies. In these elections, according to the TSE, 24 candidates did not receive a single vote—that is, not even their own vote was included in the count. Among such candidates, 21 were women.

Commitment and “Vote-Pulling”

Of the 26 candidates, fourteen had no proposals available online. Therefore, it was necessary to request them directly via the candidates’ official Facebook pages. Among the proposals that we were able to access, thirteen mentioned the words “periphery,” “favela,” and “community.” Moreover, regarding the federal military intervention, a decision by the federal government that placed public security in Rio de Janeiro in the hands of the Armed Forces, only two of the 26 candidates were incumbent representatives at the time. Both of them voted in favor of the military intervention: Francisco Floriano (Democrats) and Pedro Paulo Carvalho (Democrats)—the former Rio mayoral candidate who was accused of assaulting his ex-wife and who won re-election as a federal deputy this year.

An interesting case to help us understand the elections in Maré is that of state deputy candidate Del Gonçalves Rodrigues of the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB). Since 2004, he has run for political office without ever being successfully elected. In 2014, 73.3% of votes for Rodrigues came from the neighborhoods of Bonsucesso, Maré, Olaria, and Ramos. The trend repeated itself in this year’s elections: approximately 62% of the 6,108 votes received by Rodrigues came from this region. In both elections, he ran for the position of state deputy but was not elected. In 2018, Rodrigues was selected as an alternate. According to his campaign, Rodrigues has participated in Maré’s political scene for many years. He presents himself as an organizer, mobilizer, and opinion-shaper. In the flyers collected, the Maré resident appears in the so-called “doubles”—pamphlets in which two candidates appear side-by-side, such that one candidate leverages votes for the other. In the cases observed, Rodrigues played the role of the “vote-pulling” candidate, even though the other candidate apparently had more influence in the party given the position that he was disputing.

For the party, Rodrigues is an entry point into the area. His role in the PRB has a name—the “regional vote-puller,” whose mission is basically to inflate the total number of votes for the party and thus increase the number of seats gained by that party.

In 2014, the five most-voted parties in the three electoral regions that include residents of Maré were the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), the Party of the Republic (PR), the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), the Workers’ Party (PT), and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The latter two were the parties of two presidential candidates at the time, which may explain why these parties appeared on the list during a fiercely contested election year. In the 2018 elections, the top five were completely different. The two most-voted parties were the Social Liberal Party (PSL) and Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), followed by PRB, DEM, and the Brazilian Labor Renewal Party (PRTB).

The emergence of PSOL as the second most-voted party can be explained by the region’s electoral profile. If the elections were decided only based on the results in Maré, Marcelo Freixo (PSOL) would be the most-voted federal deputy. For state deputy, the election of three PSOL candidates would be guaranteed: Renata Souza, who was born and raised in Maré, would be the second most-voted candidate, followed by Dani Monteiro in fifth place and Josemar Pereira in tenth place.

Do Flyers Actually Work?

The distribution of campaign flyers during elections is still very much a current practice, especially among candidates who do not have much access to free public broadcasting time. Although often viewed negatively due to the amount of garbage that is generated and scattered throughout the city, flyers still represent 20% of campaign spending. Of the 26 candidates whose flyers were collected in Maré, ten were elected—three of whom successfully gained re-election.

Despite the efficiency of the pamphlets, the 2018 elections were atypical. In Maré, one of the most-voted parties this year was the PSL—which did not appear in any of the flyers analyzed for this article. The trend in favor of this party observed in Maré was reflected across Rio: the PSL was the most-voted party across the state. Much of this can be explained by the ability of the party’s top candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, to attract votes. With a campaign focused on WhatsApp, the presidential candidate—by dubious means—gained enough popularity to leverage votes for other candidates from the party.

Despite this conservative trend, PSOL, a party with more progressive and egalitarian policies, was the second most-voted party in Maré. This was also reflected across Rio, with PSOL practically doubling the number of seats now occupied in the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) relative to the previous elections—from occupying six seats to eleven.

In times of online communication, flyers have yet to be replaced by WhatsApp groups. However, the increase of PSL candidates elected to public office and the party’s Internet-based communication strategy leads us to compare the efficacy of printed materials with that of materials disseminated via WhatsApp. The PSL performed better than parties that invested in distributing flyers in Maré—but the party consistently made use of its big-name candidate, Bolsonaro, to leverage votes for other candidates.

How Was This Research Carried Out?

From September 25 to October 4, the data team collected political campaign flyers on pedestrian overpasses 6 through 10 [of Avenida Brasil]. On the way, we walked along Avenida Brasil and some of Maré’s main roads, such as Rua Sargento Silva Nunes and Rua Principal—thoroughfares that encompass parts of the favelas of Vila do João, Vila do Pinheiro, Baixa do Sapateiro, Nova Holanda, and Parque União in Complexo da Maré. Flyers were collected for 28 candidates campaigning for the positions of federal deputy, state deputy, senator, and governor. The goal was for the data_labe team to collect as many campaign ads as possible in this region within the time period specified above.

From these experiences and from traveling around Rio de Janeiro, we noticed that there were just as many campaign flyers in Maré as there were in downtown Rio—the difference being that it is a smaller area. In 2018, electoral zones 161, 162, and 21 were selected for analysis,* encompassing the North Zone neighborhoods of Ramos, Bonsucesso, Olaria, and Maré. These three zones were selected because they include residents of Maré and surrounding areas.

*In the years prior to 2018, we analyzed zones 11, 21, 121, 160, 161, and 162—the zones formerly corresponding to the neighborhoods of Ramos, Bonsucesso, Olaria, and Maré.