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Why Populists Don’t Concede

With election denial becoming a new global trend, it is necessary to ask why so many citizens would accept leaders who fraudulently cry “fraud.” Even when they leave power quietly, populist politicians have exploited political polarization and indoctrinated their supporters never to trust the system.

PRINCETON – In the run-up to Brazil’s presidential election next month, President Jair Bolsonaro is crafting his own version of former US President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie”: the claim that a loss at the ballot box is fraudulent. Incumbents who adopt this tactic might simply refuse to concede, while still leaving quietly. Or, more dangerously, they can foment outrage and even incite violence by their supporters.

It is no surprise that Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” would emulate Trump in this respect. Trump has demonstrated how an electoral loser can remain a powerful – even domineering – force in a country’s politics. But accepting the results of elections is one of the most basic elements of democracy. If election denial is becoming a new global trend, we must ask why so many citizens would accept leaders who fraudulently cry “fraud.”

Bolsonaro is facing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (better known as Lula), a left-wing former president who remains very popular, as demonstrated by his large and consistent lead in opinion polls. While the gap could still narrow, the far-right Bolsonaro is expected to lose. But he has spent years priming his supporters not to accept that outcome.