Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

The Digital Congress in Campaign

Topics and agendas discussed on Facebook by congress representatives elected in 2022

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1. Executive Summary


This study analyzed content posted on Facebook by congress representatives elected during the 2022 campaign in Brazil. We analyzed 75,335 posts from 499 representatives who have active pages on the platform between August 16 and October 2, which corresponds to the first round of the elections. The publications were collected using the research tool CrowdTangle, provided by Facebook/Meta, and analyzed through topic modeling. Seeking to understand the strategies and major topics mobilized by the elected representatives, the research explored the volume of interactions and the content of the posts, taking into account the political party and ideological spectrum of each representative. Therefore, we have contributed with information regarding the usage of digital platforms and its strategies by elected representatives, as well as their potential topics for the upcoming legislative cycle.

Keywords: Electoral campaign; Political discussion; Digital platforms.

Summary of Results

  • During the electoral campaign period, we mapped 75,335 posts made by 499 representatives elected for congress. The most frequent included Marco Feliciano (PL-SP), with 998 publications, Gleisi Hoffmann (PT-PR), with 753 publications, and Carla Zambelli (PL-SP), with 702 publications. In terms of volume of interactions per publication, the highlight was the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal – PL) of then-President Jair Bolsonaro, with Zambelli, Feliciano and Carlos Jordy standing out;
  • The most mentioned topics included women’s rights, religion, the animal cause, education, and corruption. There was a protagonism of left-wing congresswomen in the debate about women, which was proposed in an intersectional way, while the right focused on posts about corruption, with a strong opposition to President Lula’s Labor Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT);
  • In addition to this distinction between topics focused on by elected representatives in each political field, there was also a distinction between the way the content was approached: while the posts made by right-wing representatives are more general and approached topics in a broad sense, left-wing representatives were more specific and approached issues directed at their electors;
  • The study indicated that there is not a directly proportional relationship between the performance of candidates in the elections and the volume of interactions and posts on the platforms.


2. Results and discussion

1) Interactions per representative on Facebook

The figure below shows the relationship between interactions and number of posts. It is possible to observe a predominance of elected representatives associated with then-President Jair Bolsonaro among the profiles with the highest number of interactions. The congresswoman Carla Zambelli (PL-SP) led the group, with posts defending the president and publicizing her campaign schedule. The congressmen (PL-SP) and Carlos Jordy (PL-RJ) also focused their campaign on reelecting Bolsonaro and produced posts with a high volume of interactions by criticizing Lula and his allies.

Figure 1 – Volume of interactions and posts per elected representative on Facebook
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The presidential campaign was also a highlight among the representatives allied with President Lula. In this group, the highlights were Gleisi Hoffmann (PT-PR) and André Janones (Avante-MG), whose major posts supported Lula’s campaign and criticized former president Bolsonaro. The most frequent topics mentioned by Janones were the Covid emergency aid and mobilizations for actions on social networks. In turn, the topics with the highest volume of interactions posted by Gleisi Hoffmann were Lula’s participations in campaign events and TV shows.

There was no correlation between performance in the election and the amount of interactions in the platform. Although the elected representatives had a significant amount of votes, other voting leaders were not predominant on Facebook. Overall, there was a low presence of most of the elected representatives on the platform. Of the 499 profiles, only 19 reached more than 1 million interactions during the electoral period.

Figure 2 – Volume of interactions and posts per political party on Facebook
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The figure above shows the relationship between the number of posts and interactions – including the amount of candidates elected by each party, which is represented by the size of the circle. Once again, there was no correlation between the election results and the performance on the platforms. Although the PL and the PT had a higher volume of interactions and were the parties with the most candidates elected (99 and 68 representatives, respectively), other parties with many candidates elected, such as União Brasil (59) and PP (59), had fewer interactions than MDB (42), PSOL (12) and Avante (7).

When comparing the performance of parties with that of individual representatives, this discrepancy between votes and interactions is less evident. However, the movements of parties follow the representatives that stand out the most in each party, showing a concentration of engagement in a few candidates instead of a cohesive mobilization among candidates in the same party.

2) Major topics on Facebook

The analysis of major topics on Facebook was carried out through a topic modeling technique based on linguistic models. This model represents text in a continuous semantic space of low dimensionality and clusters documents in order to find prevailing topics. The representation of each topic is calculated using a ranking that takes into account the relevance of each term in the cluster to which it belongs. The most relevant topics included posts about women’s rights, corruption, education, the animal cause, and requests for local support for cities and regions.


Figure 3 – Women’s rights
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

This topic was focused on the female electorate and how to capture and represent it. The discussion was marked by disputes between different fields and was centered on which gestures and actions could effectively represent women in politics. It is worth noting that this mobilization was very nationalized, with Lula and Bolsonaro being constantly mentioned in publications comparing which of the two is more “concerned” with issues that are relevant for women.

There was also a difference between how right-wing and left-wing political actors mobilized this topic: while left-wing representatives referred to women in a more specific way, considering different contexts, realities and backgrounds, right-wing representatives communicated with this public in a more general way.

The profiles discussing this topic more frequently include Sônia Guajajara (PSOL-SP), Elcione Barbalho (MDB-PA), Carol Dartora (PT-PR), Célia Xakriabá (PSOL-MG) and Talíria Petrone (PSOL-RJ). Beyond the scope of the left-wing field, there was also a majority of non-white women involved in an anti-racist agenda, discussing topics seen as relevant to the female electorate in an intersectional way by approaching racial and ethnic issues. It was also common to see opposition to Bolsonaro by claiming that he is “against” women.

In turn, the publications with the most interactions came from the profiles of Jandira Feghali (PCdoB-RJ), Carla Zambelli (PL-SP), Carol de Toni (PL-SC), Marco Feliciano (PL-SP) and Talíria Petrone (PSOL-RJ). Tributes to Marielle Franco and criticism of Bolsonaro gained space among left-wing representatives. In the right-wing field, the discussion was dominated by attacks against Simone Tebet and her alleged “self-service feminism”, as well as criticism of the PT. It is also worth noting that the pastor Marco Feliciano (PL-SP) was the only man to stand out in this topic.

Figure 4 – Corruption
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The central point in this topic was a strong anti-PT sentiment, marked mostly by anti-corruption arguments. Common terms were “Ladrão cachaceiro” (drunk thief), “ex-presidiário Lula” (former inmate Lula), and “Lula Ladrão” (Lula thief). Support for Bolsonaro and attacks against the legal system were also common.

Carlos Jordy (PL-RJ) was a protagonist in this discussion because his profile participated the most frequently and because his publications had the highest number of interactions. The highlights among Jordy’s posts include the continuous reproduction of Bolsonaro’s live broadcasts and interviews and claims that Lula is not innocent.

PL representatives such as Luiz Lima (PL-RJ), Cabo Gilberto Silva (PL-PB), Marco Feliciano (PL-SP), Carla Zambelli (PL-SP) and Eduardo Bolsonaro (PL-SP) also stood out, figuring among the profiles with the highest number of interactions in their posts. Their publications were marked by criticism of the Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes for alleged abuse of power, attacks against Lula and Rede Globo, as well as praise for Bolsonaro. On the other hand, Lindbergh Farias (PT-RJ), Gleisi Hoffmann (PT-PR) and André Janones (Avante-MG) represented the opposition in this topic, praising Lula’s history and criticizing Bolsonaro’s measures, particularly those related to social aid.


Figure 5 – Education
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

This topic encompassed several aspects related to education in Brazil, from homages to Paulo Freire to posts opposing the so-called “indoctrination in classrooms”. The most frequent profiles in the discussion included Rubens Otoni (PT-GO), Professora Goreth (PDT-AP) and Tarcísio Motta (PSOL-RJ), all of them showing some level of dialogue with the left. These representatives mentioned several proposals related to the revocation of the Secondary Education reform and the expansion of Fundeb (the Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Basic Education), as well as meetings with teachers and posts focused on literacy.

The publications with the highest number of interactions showed a bigger dispute between actors from different sides of the political spectrum. The highlights were Tábata Amaral (PSD-SP), Gustavo Gayer (PL-GO), Carla Zambelli (PL-SP), Sâmia Bomfim (PSOL-SP) and Marcel Van Hattem (NOVO-RS). While Amaral and Bomfim paid homages to Paulo Freire and made posts recognizing the gaps in Brazilian education, Gayer, Zambelli and Van Hattem criticized the closure of schools during the pandemic and claimed that there is political indoctrination in classrooms.


Figure 6 – The animal cause
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

The major subjects in the publications made by elected representatives who directed their campaigns to the animal cause were castration campaign projects, actions against animal mistreatment, and measures to facilitate health access for pets.

While candidates aligned with the conservative or center-right field favored more generalist agendas, such as those mentioned above, progressive candidates tended to be more specific. They mentioned, for instance, projects to prohibit the use of firearms by hunters, breeding birds in cages, the use of animal skins in clothing, and defended the classification of mistreatment and cruelty as a heinous crime.

As a strategy to raise awareness of potential voters, there were also frequent reports of rescuing animals in vulnerable situations. In general, these publications were accompanied by photos or videos that compared the condition of the animal before and after receiving care with the candidate’s help. Marcelo Cid Heráclito Queiroz (Progressistas-RJ) was one of the names that obtained greater visibility with subjects related to the pet agenda, as well as Delegate Matheus Laiola (União Brasil-PR), Duarte Jr. (PSB-MA), Bruno Ganem (Podemos-SP) and Nilto Tatto (PT-SP).


Figure 7 – Requests for local support
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

As shown by the collected data, one of the most frequent campaign strategies was the significant focus on requests for support at the local level, among mayors, councilors and community leaders. In the campaign acts published, the candidates were usually accompanied by local authorities, presenting what they had allegedly done for the region in previous terms, such as investments in health and education, or promising to listen to the local voters regarding their most pressing demands.

With this, the then candidates sought to establish a horizontal relationship between themselves and their potential voters, seeking to create confidence that their votes would be converted into concrete and relatively quick actions for their cities and communities, with the support from local authorities. The support of former mayors and councilors was also frequently observed, including the direct organization of campaign events as a means of transferring political capital to the elected representatives. Candidates such as Luiz Eduardo Campos da Fonte (Progressistas-PE), Odair Cunha (PT-MG), Benes Leocádio (União-RN) and Bacelar (PV-BA) stood out in requests for local support.

Figure 8 – Religion
Period: August 16 to October 2

Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

. Source: Facebook | Elaborated by: FGV ECMI

This topic was marked by a strong dialogue between right-wing actors and evangelical voters, led by Marcelo Crivella (Republicanos-RJ), the most frequent profile in the discussion, and Fábio Teruel (MDB-SP), who made the publications with the highest number of interactions. These representatives focused on motivational posts with biblical passages, emphasizing a notion that “good and great things are to come”.

Other frequent profiles in this discussion included the Catholics Padre João (PT-MG) and Chris Tonietto (PL-RJ). It is interesting to note that both profiles stood out by continuously sharing biblical passages; however, the agendas they defend are almost the opposite of each other. While the PT candidate followed his party’s guidelines regarding the usual agendas, being one of the few religious representatives on the left, Tonietto has a history of strong fight against abortion, feminism and same-sex unions.

Among the posts with the highest number of interactions, Fábio Teruel (MDB-SP), a gospel singer and elected congressman for São Paulo, made 41 of the 50 publications. In addition, Marco Feliciano (PL-SP), Carla Zambelli (PL-SP), Deltan Dallagnol (Podemos-PR), Abilio Brunini (PL-MT) and Bia Kicis (PL-SP) also achieved some visibility in this topic, maintaining the level of engagement in the right wing within the debate on religion. It is interesting to note that André Janones (Avante-MG) is the only political actor aligned with Lula who figured among the authors of the 50 posts, focusing mostly on biblical passages.

3. Conclusions

Through the analysis of 75,335 posts on Facebook, published between August 16 and October 2 in the profiles of 499 congress representatives elected in Brazil in 2022, this study sought to observe the main topics raised during the electoral campaign by the representatives who will exercise their term in the Chamber of Deputies between 2023 and 2026.
Although most elected representatives used the platform during the campaign, there was a low volume of interactions on their pages. Only 19 profiles managed to reach more than 1 million interactions in posts during the entire analyzed period. There was no correlation between the performance of the representatives in the elections and the number of interactions on the platforms. Representatives who were among the most voted in the country were not necessarily among those with the most interactions or posts on Facebook, suggesting that, even though the platform played an important role in the electoral race in Brazil, it is not sufficient for the creation of predictive models regarding the election of candidates on its own.

Based on the thematic analysis of the posts, the study also evidenced a nationalization of the legislative dispute. The presidential race between Lula (PT) and Jair Bolsonaro (PL) imposed itself on the campaign agenda of candidates for congress, who relied on the majority candidates to ask for the votes of the ideological electorate of each political group. The mobilization of local support from mayors and councilors was also a digital campaign strategy used by the campaigns, highlighting the importance of regional actors and political alliances in the race, even in a digital environment.

A distinction was also found between the ways the topics are approached according to the political orientation of the candidates. While supporters of then-president Jair Bolsonaro were more prominent in the topics of corruption and religion, supporters of president-elect Lula were more prominent in publications related to women’s rights and education. The treatment given to the topics was also different on each side: representatives aligned with the left made mentions and proposals that are more specific for the topics addressed, while right-wing representatives tended to be more general.

The most frequent discussions included the engagement of users in topics such as the animal cause, to the detriment of issues such as income distribution, job creation, health and the environment. These distinctions between the contents indicate a strategy and use of Facebook during the electoral campaign that were driven by ideological aspects and identification of candidates with their voters. However, it is necessary to investigate broader periods and a larger number of digital platforms to understand digital campaign strategies and the impact of online performance on electoral results.

4. Editorial Satff

Research Coordination
Marco Aurelio Ruediger
Amaro Grassi

Mariana Carvalho
Leticia Sabbatini
Renato Contente
Lucas Roberto da Silva
Victor Piaia

Technical Review
Renata Tomaz

Graphic Project
Daniel Almada
Luis Gomes



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