Nachricht | Political Parties / Election Analyses - Southern Cone - Brazil / Paraguay Who Votes for the Far Right in Latin America?

A fine-grain analysis of the right-wing electoral base in Brazil and Argentina



Julia Almeida,

Javier Milei, der neu vereidigte Präsident Argentiniens, umarmt den ehemaligen brasilianischen Präsidenten Jair Bolsonaro bei seiner Amtseinführung, 10. Dezember 2023.
Javier Milei, der neu vereidigte Präsident Argentiniens, umarmt den ehemaligen brasilianischen Präsidenten Jair Bolsonaro bei seiner Amtseinführung, 10. Dezember 2023. Foto: IMAGO / ABACAPRESS

A preliminary analysis of voting in Argentina and Brazil suggests that, despite important differences between their social bases, Javier Milei and Jair Bolsonaro have both been able to mobilize a sense of outrage related to a decline in the quality of life in these countries. Both campaigns stood out for their neoconservative agendas, as well as hate speech fomented through social media with the use of network engagement technologies and fake news.

Julia Almeida is a lawyer and a member of the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of São Paulo.

This article presents some hypotheses based on comparisons of the rise of the far right in Brazil and Argentina. I will use three different points of reference:

  1. Profiles of Bolsonaro and Milei voters in the Brazilian elections of 2018 and 2022 and the second round of the Argentinian election in 2023,
  2. Support for conservative agendas among these candidates’ voters in 2022 and 2023, and
  3. Profile data for the most engaged social bases, with respect to participation in political acts related to both figures in 2023.

Finally, we discuss emerging trends for the future of these far-right movements, whose economic and social agendas are unable to meet the expectations of their own bases.

Social Majorities

Javier Milei formed a social majority and won the 2023 Argentinian elections, expanding his electoral base with the support of Juntos por el Cambio (“Together for Change”, the country’s main opposition bloc, which came in third in the first round). If we add up the votes that Milei and Juntos por el Cambio president Patricia Bullrich received in the first round, the total comes to about 14.1 million votes, which is very close to the 14.4 million votes Milei received in the second round. These numbers show the extent to which a feeling of change permeated the Argentinian election, in which the candidate for the incumbent coalition was rejected due to the economic crisis of recent years.

In the Brazilian case, Bolsonaro managed to form a social majority in 2018, when he won with a similar advantage over his opponent. Regarding the 2022 election, it is first necessary to note two significant differences (which will be further analysed later) in relation to Milei in 2023 and Bolsonaro’s own prior election in 2018: in 2022, Bolsonaro was the incumbent, and he faced a very popular competitor who had not been removed from the ballot (as happened in 2018).

With these considerations in mind, it is now necessary to examine the data:[1]


Milei (2023)


Bolsonaro (2022)


Bolsonaro (2018)


Very low income




Low-middle income



Middle income




Upper-middle income


High income




Very high income




Education level

Milei (2023) AtlasIntel, weighted

Bolsonaro (2022)

AtlasIntel, weighted

Bolsonaro (2018)


Primary school




Secondary school




Higher education




With respect to income, we see that Bolsonaro only lost among people who earned no more than two times the monthly minimum wage in 2018. He won by a large margin among people with incomes over 10,000 Brazilian reais (the richest segment) and cemented his victory by, above all, securing the middle-class vote. In 2022, his profile changed slightly as compared with 2018: after four years in office, he lost part of his base among the lowest and highest earners, consolidating his status as a candidate for the middle and upper-middle classes. Milei, on the other hand, won almost 60 percent of the poorest people’s votes — those whose income is no higher than 100,000 pesos. He won in all income brackets of the middle class (from the lowest to the highest), although with lower percentages than among the poor, and he lost among the richest.

It is also worth noting that the surveys cited here do not break voters down by race, which would have been an interesting indicator of various aspects of the voter profiles.


Milei (2023)

AtlasIntel, weighted

Bolsonaro (2022)

AtlasIntel, weighted

Bolsonaro (2018)


































Regarding age profiles, the differences are significant. Milei is a phenomenon whose main social base is the youth, especially people between the ages of 16 and 24. He lost to Massa in all sectors above the age of 35, yet he captivated and engaged young people in a manner that deviates significantly from Bolsonaro. In both 2018 and 2022, the 16–24 age bracket was the segment that supported the far-right candidate the least. While he garnered strong support across all sectors to secure victory in 2018, it was precisely among the youth where he encountered his primary electoral hurdle.

Bolsonaro’s constituency is even more male-dominated than Milei’s. This difference can be explained by Bolsonaro’s more neoconservative stance, which is associated with a traditional view of the family (“violent and armed”).

God and Guns

In terms of the cultural elements analysed here, religion is perhaps the sphere where Brazil and Argentina differ most today.

The Catholic Church is the only state-subsidized religion in Argentina[3] and around 62.9 percent of the population are members. Although the number of Catholics has dropped significantly in recent years (around 10 percentage points) and the proportion of Evangelicals grew from 9 to 15.3 percent between 2008 and 2019, Catholics are still a significant majority in Argentina.

In terms of electoral results, the Argentinian surveys that we analyzed do not break voters down by religion, but we do know that Evangelical voters were a fundamental part of Bolsonaro’s engaged social base. In the Argentinian case, the religious sector did not mobilize in support of Milei’s candidacy, with the exception of a link with Jewish mysticism (including total adherence to Israel’s current stance, during the war on Palestine). It is also worth noting that Milei has been hostile towards the Vatican and Pope Francis.

Both Bolsonaro’s and Milei’s engaged bases share a similar neoconservative agenda and an extremely similar neoliberal agenda.

Regarding the military vote, however, there are significant parallels between the two profiles. A 2023 survey published by Promisa shows that almost 90 percent of military personnel supported Milei’s candidacy. Likewise, looking at Bolsonaro’s case, we see that this is one of his main social bases. In addition to being a retired military officer, Bolsonaro’s ticket included vice presidential candidates who were military officers during both campaigns (Mourão in 2018 and Braga Netto in 2022). His government was the most militarized since democratization, with more than 6,000 military personnel in federal government posts and numerous ministers from the military, not to mention his support among the military police.

Unlike Brazil, Argentina underwent a transition to civilian oversight of the armed forces and a reduction in the military’s internal control and policing function after the end of the military dictatorship. Furthermore, the police are not militarized. However, the more conservative sectors of the armed forces around the new president are engaged in a reorganization process, mainly through Milei’s vice president Victoria Villarruel, who comes from a military family and personifies this project. Milei and Villarruel’s denial of the number of people killed and disappeared during the dictatorship is not circumstantial. It is an attempt to revise this collective memory, to the point that amnesty or revision of some cases involving military personnel could be considered.

An Organic Base

Despite the quantitative increase in votes for Milei between the first and second rounds, it is important to note that the general characteristics of his constituency did not change substantially. He was the candidate with the largest share of voters aged 16 to 24 (with a big difference compared to other age groups) and 25 to 34. He also had a majority of the male electorate (around an 8 point difference), but the difference was more pronounced in the first round than in the second round. Likewise, he still holds substantial support among the low-income sectors of Argentinian society.

With regard to Bolsonaro’s constituency, in both elections the same phenomenon can be observed between the first and second rounds: there were no major differences in age, income, and gender profiles among his voters between the first and second rounds. However, the profile did fluctuate between the two elections.

When we look at the most organic core of Milei’s base, namely the 30 percent of the Argentinian population who voted for him in the first round, we can see that the similarities with Bolsonaro intensify in terms of his defence of a neoconservative agenda.

Organic Vote[4]


Argentinian society (2023)

Milei voters (2023)

Brazilian society (2022 and 2023)

Bolsonaro 2022 (1st round) and 2023

Abortion (opposed)



72.6% (2022)

95.7% (2022)

Marijuana legalization (opposed)



75.5% (2022)

95.1% (2022)

Gay marriage (favourable)



Gun ownership (favourable)



50% (2023)

67% (2023)




I would point out that Milei’s and Bolsonaro’s constituencies have the same conservative characteristics. We should note, however, that Argentinian society is less conservative than Brazil’s at the moment (of course, we have to keep in mind that Brazil had four years of an extreme right-wing government whose agendas influenced public debate), so this may partly explain the percentage difference between Milei and Bolsonaro’s constituencies.

Without going into the historical and contemporary roots of conservatism in each of the societies analysed, the most relevant element for understanding the behaviour of the far right is that, on all these issues, Bolsonaro and Milei voters support these agendas more than the general population of each country does.[5]

Milei’s extremely young base also hints at a generational crisis in Argentina. He mobilizes the sector most affected by the economic crisis and the precarization of work — a segment that sees no alternative for the future.

Finally, regarding Argentina, it is essential to consider how much women’s issues, and abortion in particular, are at the centre of political and electoral disputes. After an extensive mobilization, Argentinian women succeeded in legalizing abortion in 2020. Although the majority of society is in favour of the measure, it is clear that Milei’s candidacy brings together and organizes those who saw this as a defeat.[6] In other words, it is also a conservative reaction to the advance of women’s rights.

Political Vanguard

According to surveys conducted by the University of São Paulo’s Monitor do Debate Político no Meio Digital (Digital Political Debate Monitor) among audience members at Milei’s last rally at the end of the first round (25 October) and the base of the latest act of the Brazilian extreme right (26 November), there is a common thread between the neoconservative and neo-liberal agendas (the numbers are closer in terms of neo-liberal identity). As Pablo Ortellado points out in his article in O Globo, it is also possible that this characteristic will change over the years of Milei’s government.

% of interviewees who agree with these statements

Brazil, pro-Bolsonaro rally

Argentina, pro-Milei rally

Human rights get in the way of fighting crime.



Schools teach subjects that go against family values.



The internet allows us to discover truths that newspapers and TV want to hide.



Artists lack respect for the nation’s moral values.



The voting system is reliable.



Government aid discourages people from working.



Labour laws hinder business growth more than they protect workers.



The government shouldn’t pay for all the people’s needs.



Work with a formal contract takes away a worker’s freedom.



Both Bolsonaro’s and Milei’s engaged bases (the political vanguard) share a similar neoconservative agenda and an extremely similar neoliberal agenda. Ortellado also points out that it is possible that this issue also has a connection with a tendency towards radicalization after Bolsonaro’s election, which may also occur with Milei. We should also emphasize that the constitution and articulation of an extreme right in Argentina is much more recent than in Brazil, so there is a difference in the political time-frame for the development of certain characteristics.

A Second Far-Right Cycle?

The contexts in which the Argentinian and Brazilian far right took over were not the same. First, in political terms, Bolsonaro’s election in 2018 came after a parliamentary coup (ousting President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party) and the imprisonment of Lula da Silva. That year, Bolsonaro was unlikely to beat Lula, who was in first place in all the polls at the time, so he was elected amid a climate of political and institutional debasement within an authoritarian framework in which the social majority was disrupted by Lula’s imprisonment.

Milei, on the other hand, emerged as an energized, young, and vibrant candidate. His political stock is the economic failure of the government of Alberto Fernández and his would-be successor, Sergio Massa. Milei is therefore a product of the immediate crisis of Kirchnerism (which had already lost elections to the ultra-liberal Mauricio Macri in 2015, a member of the same party as Bullrich).

But there are significant differences in the social sphere as well. The mobilized base and the main social groups that supported Milei and Bolsonaro were not the same. While Milei mobilized younger and poorer segments of the population in terms of voting and political engagement, Bolsonaro had a better electoral and social relationship with older and middle-class segments. Both are popular in that they have mass support and are expressions of important parts of the general population.

Milei will not necessarily follow the same path as his most influential predecessors, but he will face the same crossroads, and under more complicated conditions.

However, the socio-economic differences between these segments are not apparent in their defence of their respective political agendas, namely neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism. On the contrary, we see almost identical support with regard to these elements (especially from the more engaged base on the far right in these countries).

This reveals something about the construction of the global far right. First, it signals an impressive capacity for political articulation and a movement that is able to express the same agenda worldwide. Second, it also indicates that, although they are products of the post-2008 global economic crisis, the economic interests of the far right do not necessarily correspond to the expectations of the segments of the population that support their economic agenda. In other words, there is a certain dislocation between that segment’s economic discourse and the people who will actually benefit from it. And this raises a key question: Who wins and who loses with the rise of the far right?

Milei was elected as a popular candidate, securing a majority of the poorest voters. He will therefore need to give his constituency an answer. The problem is that his agenda is not distributive, but rather concentrative. His alternative is to do away with several of Argentina’s income distribution mechanisms in order to contain inflation. He will therefore reach a crossroads that could change the profile of his electorate or cause his downfall.

His extremely young base also hints at a generational crisis in Argentina. He mobilizes the sector most affected by the economic crisis and the precarization of work — a segment that sees no alternative for the future. This generational crisis is also a trend in global capitalism, due to a process of increasing inequality and job insecurity.

This is a dilemma for the extreme right in government, since, as a rule, their economic agendas tend towards income concentration (fighting distributive elements by advancing neo-liberal policies); their strength basically lies in hatred of some political sector (antagonism toward the Workers’ Party, anti-Kirchnerism, etc.), the neoconservative agenda, and/or the agenda of institutional authoritarian tension.

However, once in office, these far-right politicians end up losing a main driving force, which is the ability to harness the indignation of the majority of the population. This is why they tend to intensify their more radical political and ideological discourse, forming a more conservative and more engaged core than when they were elected. This happened with Trump as well as Bolsonaro.

Milei will not necessarily follow the same path as his most influential predecessors, but he will face the same crossroads, and under more complicated conditions (his base being less well-off, with an economy in crisis and scarce resources). If he repeats the same recipe, he will not be re-elected. This is the problem of the far right in relation to the dynamics of liberal democracy: electoral success is difficult to replicate. Trump’s attempted coup in the Capitol and Bolsonaro’s invasion on 8 January both point in this direction. For this reason, it is possible that a second cycle of the global far right may begin, with the intensification of an institutional authoritarian agenda.

Translated by Diego Otero and Joseph Keady for Gegensatz Translation Collective.

[1] AtlasIntel poll of Argentian elections 2023 (sample from 5–9/11) and Brazilian elections 2022 (sample from 21–25/11) and Datafolha survey 2018 (sample from 26 and 27/10). A few methodological considerations are in order. First, comparing votes between countries with different social and economic backgrounds is not straightforward, as there are important differences in the population profiles as a whole. However, considering the main social indicators (gender, age, income) and the same methodological basis (which is why AtlasIntel was chosen, as it carried out surveys in both countries using the same methodology), it is possible to make approximations with a certain degree of confidence. Another caveat is that there is a credibility crisis among polling institutions, especially in view of the discrepancies that appear due to the difficulty of recording the far-right vote. The results of the AtlasIntel poll on second-round voting in Argentina were well outside the margin of error. However, this does not prevent us from considering these polls as an important portrait of the voter profile. Finally, it should be noted that we did not use AtlasIntel data for Brazil in 2018, as the institute will be consolidated mainly from 2019 onwards.

[2] The AtlasIntel poll does not include disaggregated data on valid votes. Thus, the totals here represent valid votes, in accordance with the estimated number of spoiled and blank ballots for each segment. This added 1 percent to Milei’s margin of error in the interest of results closer to those of the elections, given that the poll was highly inaccurate. Obviously, this assumes the same margin of error across all sectors, which is not always the case. However, the goal here is to use a single, comparable methodology for both Brazil and Argentina. For this reason, in fact, the results of the Promíscua poll will also be used to estimate the percentage of deviations from the actual results.

[3] According to Article 2 of the Argentinian Constitution, the status of the Catholic Church differs from that of other religions, requiring state subsidies.

[4] AtlasIntel survey of 2023 Argentinian elections (sample from 5–9/11), 2022 Brazilian elections (sample from 21 and 25/11), and Datafolha ideological map survey June 2023.

[5] Regarding Patrícia Bullrich's vote, we should point out that she has very substantial conservative support on some issues, such as abortion and drugs. Although it is not as strong as the right’s support for Milei, it does help to understand the significant migration of votes.

[6] This is particularly curious given the leadership role that the Catholic Church took in the political resistance to legalization.