Bolsonaro supporters talk on “Datapovo” and attack institutes to discredit polls
Research shows WhatsApp, Telegram groups and YouTube channels promote delegitimization of polls
By Patricia Campos Mello
May 7, 2022
With the aim of delegitimizing opinion polls showing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) in the lead, Bolsonaro supporters’ groups on WhatsApp, Telegram and YouTube channels are resorting to skewed surveys, pseudo polls and attacks on polling institutes Datafolha and Ipespe.
According to research carried out by NetLab, a research laboratory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and the data analysis consultancy Novelo Data, Bolsonarist politicians and channels have shared results of surveys over the internet as if they were reliable opinion polls, delegitimized established institutes, and promoted the so-called “Datapovo” — photos and videos of crowds that attempt to provide proof of the popularity of the President, Jair Bolsonaro (PL).
“The goal is to present Bolsonaro’s base with a scenario in which, contrary to the one indicated by the leading electoral polls, Bolsonaro has a large advantage over Lula,” says Guilherme Felitti, a partner at Novelo Data.
According to Rose Marie Santini, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and director of NetLab, “these pseudo polls are sophisticated propaganda tools: they appear to be polls, but they are just propaganda.”
“There is solid evidence that opinion polls influence the decisions made by many voters; by publicizing these pseudo polls, the goal is to lead those people who are indecisive, people skeptical of politics, and people lacking sufficient information to decide according to the majority, what we would call following the herd.”
NetLab monitored 566 groups on WhatsApp and 1,100 groups on Telegram between December 1, 2021, and April 27 of this year.
The most circulated surveys were from Jovem Pan (2,433 messages in 127 groups), with messages such as: “Vote and send to all the Bolsonarists you know, family, etc. Ask them to do the same (vote and only repost for Bolsonarists). This is a Jovem Pan survey, and the result will be published on Monday. The first one they did gave Bolsonaro 91% and Lula 9%. People on the left complained, and Jovem Pan decided to do this second one. The left mobilized, shared, and Lula increased by a lot. Right now it’s 64 for Bolsonaro and 36 for Lula. Let’s mobilize as well and hand out another thrashing [sic].”
Next came Eleições Ao Vivo (699 messages in 113 groups), realidadedopovo.com.br (316 messages in 75 groups), and strawpoll.com, a site that allows users to create their own surveys (308 messages in 88 groups).
“SERIOUS poll! Only 01 (one) vote per IP. No FRAUD in this one!!! Please VOTE and SHARE with everyone, with the_HOTTIES_ as well! Go Brazil!!! *Victory is ours, Brazil!* In a Contest between Lula and Bolsonaro in 2022, who would you vote for? Please note: This survey only allows 1 vote per IP. Official 2022 Presidential Survey (January), Bolsonaro or Lula?” was the content of one of the most shared messages, which included a link to the survey.
Novelo Data has now analyzed the content of more than 70,000 videos published by the 450 biggest far-right channels on YouTube Brasil between January 1 and April 26, 2022.
According to Felitti, partner at Novelo Data, three methods are used to attack polls’ credibility. There are criticisms of the traditional polling institutes, such as Datafolha and Ipespe, recalling results of voting intention polls or raising suspicions as to the institute’s trustworthiness.
The second line of attack is to attempt to delegitimize surveys, stating that the poll that is really accurate is “Datapovo”, conveying approval of the politician who takes to the streets. As YouTuber Fernando Lisboa said in a video dated January 1, the President “is able to walk in the street, and get hugs. Lula doesn’t go out into the street. Bolsonaro goes to the bakery.”
There are videos that state the following: “Polls give Lula 45%, 48%. It’s a big lie. Claim from Pleno.News that businessmen have paid polls to lie that Lula would win in the first round.”
Soon after May 1 of this year, with lackluster demonstrations on both the Bolsonarist and PT (Workers’ Party) side, Bolsonaro supporters returned to the fray.
Using photos taken at angles that gave the impression of a large crowd at the demonstration in support of the President, and few people at the opposition event, former minister Damares Alves posted: “Shame on the ex-convict! The “leader” of the Worker$ Par$y doesn’t seem to be a leader in the real world.”
Using similar images, the senator Flávio Bolsonaro (PL-RJ) said: “Looking at the photo…who do you think is leading in the polls?”
Polls that show Bolsonaro in the lead are also exploited, as well as online surveys, “in order to demonstrate that electoral polls are bought and paid for,” says Felitti.
According to the Novelo research, the only poll cited as a reflection of reality is from Brasmarket. Among the surveys, the two favorites are EleiçõesAoVivo and those carried out by Jovem Pan.
There are videos with titles like “Bolsonaro lost to everyone and in every scenario! Do you still believe the polls? WATCH!!!!” “LIVE! When the survey is LIVE, it can’t be manipulated!” and “LIVE poll is hard for the 9-fingered thief!” regarding a Jovem Pan survey.
According to Felitti, Jovem Pan itself and YouTubers such as federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PL-SP), Vida Gringa USA, and Deycon Silva repost videos showing survey results on their channels.
Novelo Data research indicates that another survey used exhaustively, even on Flávio Bolsonaro’s channel, was a poll conducted by the comedian Sérgio Mallandro on one of his shows at the beginning of March. In 2018, Eduardo Bolsonaro had published a video of another presidential survey conducted by Sérgio Mallandro.
“Analysis of more than 70,000 far-right videos posted in 2022 suggests clear coordination of large channels in order to attack and discredit electoral polls in Brazil,” says Felitti.
As Bolsonaro improves in traditional polls, videos contain fewer mentions of related terms. The daily average of mentions of the term “polls” among Bolsonarist channels in April stood at 483, versus 565 in February and 545 in March.
“It seems there is less interest and intensity related to the issue, but it’s difficult to ascertain whether this is due to better polling trends,” says Felitti.
At NetLab, Santini indicates another goal of the campaign to discredit polls. “Bolsonaro’s base is frequently exposed to polls in which Bolsonaro emerges as the victor. This builds up false evidence in order to dispute election results and question the institutes that use scientific methodology to conduct opinion polls.”