Professors of the Institute of International Relations of the University of São Paulo (IRI-USP) have found that public opinion in one of the most important and turbulent periods of Brazil’s twentieth century history, the government of João Goulart (1961-1964), was reasonably coherent when it comes to domestic and international issues. This finding is significant as it is aligned with recent conclusions on public opinion’s coherence in developed Western democracies.
In the case of early 1960s’ Brazil, coherence meant that citizens not only supported domestic redistributive policies, such as agrarian and tax reforms, but also defended a neutralist foreign approach, setting the country apart in the bipolarity of the Cold War. In general, these positions coincided with those of the Goulart administration, which argued for the implementation of basic reforms domestically (reformas de base), and for a more independent role in foreign affairs (the so-called ‘Independent Foreign Policy’, or Política Externa Independente, PEI).
The authors based their study on a recent declassified public opinion survey made on behalf of the United States Information Agency (USIA) in the 1961-1962 period in all Brazilian cities with more than 10,000 habitants. Found at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston (Massachusetts, United States), this is the only source available up to day that directly shows how Brazilian perceived foreign policy issues during the final years of the country’s post-war republic (1946-1964). The timing of the 1962 survey could also not have been better: interviews took place just after the general October 1962 elections and the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as just some months ahead of the January 1963 plebiscite that would give full presidential powers back to President João Goulart. This means that Brazilians tended to be highly exposed to information on domestic and foreign policy issues when they were interviewed.
Previous works on public opinion in Goulart’s Brazil have based their claims on more limited opinion pools, surveyed only in Brazil’s largest cities (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo), and made out of questions that did not deal with foreign policy issues directly. Although the authors were not able to find the USIA survey’s micro-data, which would have allowed them to link domestic and foreign policy preferences with greater reliability, the paper attempted to bypass this limitation by using other U.S. primary sources, by calculating the overlap coefficient of domestic and foreign policy variables, and by employing recent theoretical contributions in studies of public opinion on heuristic shortcuts.
The results were highly significant, particularly when it comes to the pair agrarian reform and neutralist foreign policy. This is to say there was a high probability that Brazilians who defended agrarian reform were also the same who supported a neutral foreign approach in world affairs. Although the authors claim that public opinion in Goulart’s Brazil was somewhat coherent up to late 1962, as a matter of fact there are two important limitations to this conclusion: first, Brazilians did not support radical redistributive domestic policies. In the case of reforms which depended on property expropriation, such as agrarian reform, for instance, Brazilians wanted the state to pay full or part-worth compensations for the owners. Only a tiny minority preferred expropriations to take place without compensation at all. And, second, even though Brazilians argued for a neutralist foreign approach, the level of support for a pro-U.S. foreign policy was rapidly increasing, jumping from 39.5% to 48.1% in the 1961-1962 period (taking interviewers with opinion as reference). This suggests that Brazil’s public opinion could be moving towards incoherence on the eve of President Goulart’s overthrow in March 1964.
Another amazing finding refers to the fact that, in general, Brazilians presented a bad image of the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro, in contrast with that of the United States. While in 1962 more than 55% and almost 70% of Brazilians had either a “bad” or “very bad opinion” of the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro, respectively, on the other hand an absolute majority (69.4%) considered the United States “good” or “very good”. As this certainly brings up more complexity to the picture, the authors argue that it does not commit in any way the paper’s major finding.
In fact, Goulart’s independent foreign policy was presented to the society as a pragmatic approach to economic development, e.g., as a way of fostering the country’s economic growth through trade and investments with/from all over the world, including the Soviet bloc. Besides, given that Brazilians supported moderate redistributive policies domestically, it should not come as a surprise the fact they argued for a neutralist foreign policy and, at the same time, presented a good image of the United States – a country which was a symbol of success not only in terms of economic development, but also as to the respect for civil liberties and property rights. The article Public opinion and foreign policy in João Goulart’s Brazil (1961-1964): Coherence between national and foreign policy perceptions? was published at the Revista Brasileira de Politica International, vol. 58, no. 2, July/December 2015.
Read the article:
LOUREIRO, FELIPE PEREIRA, GUIMARÃES, FELICIANO DE SÁ, & SCHOR, ADRIANA. (2015). Public opinion and foreign policy in João Goulart’s Brazil (1961-1964): Coherence between national and foreign policy perceptions?. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 58(2), 98-118. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201500206
FELIPE PEREIRA LOUREIRO – Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto de Relações Internacionais, São Paulo – SP, Brazil (firstname.lastname@example.org).
FELICIANO DE SÁ GUIMARÃES – Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto de Relações Internacionais, São Paulo – SP, Brazil (email@example.com).
ADRIANA SCHOR – Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto de Relações Internacionais, São Paulo – SP, Brazil (firstname.lastname@example.org).