On the 28 October 2018, Brazilians elected right-wing populist Jair Messias Bolsonaro as the 38th President of Brazil. Bolsonaro defeated his opponent Fernando Haddad from the PT, by a significant margin of 55,13% as against 43,87% (Araujuo & Prior 2020). Even against the backdrop of surging support for right-wing candidates and parties, the election of Bolsonaro still surprised observers and academics. Bolsonaro’s success, as Leticia Cesarino (2019) and Stuart Davis and Joe Straubhaar (2020) found, was due to his campaign’s communication strategy on social media. At the heart of these strategies is the use of emotive messaging on WhatsApp, which micro-targeted Evangelicals through the use of fake news, particularly disinformation, and populist communication derived from crises occurring in Brazil leading up to the 2018 election.
Grounded in these arguments, this dissertation studies the effects of fear, anger and enthusiasm/hope in communication shared by the Bolsonaro campaign on WhatsApp. In doing so, the study applies a two-step analysis method. Firstly, the 12 sample WhatsApp messages were analysed using a latent content analysis to identify and explore the topics addressed in these messages. Secondly, these messages were then subjected to an emotional sentiment analysis to measure their emotive elements using the Linguistic-Inquiry and Word Count software. Guided by the Theory of Affective Intelligence, this dissertation found that anger and enthusiasm are evoked by WhatsApp messaging based on political habits, while fear is evoked by messaging grounded in an unknown threat. Moreover, anger and enthusiasm are found to decrease information-seeking, while fear encourages individuals to seek alternative information. The Bolsonaro WhatsApp network acted as both an echo-chamber for individuals experiencing anger/enthusiasm, and an alternative source of information for individuals experiencing fear. This dissertation shows how the Bolsonaro campaign used emotive strategic communication on WhatsApp to appeal to Evangelical Christians, specifically their desire for social recognition.
Dissertation (MA (Political Sciences))--University of Pretoria, 2022.