Bolsonaro's popularity jumps as Brazil economy improves, crime drops

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s approval rating has surged, thanks to an improving economy and his government’s efforts to fight corruption and make Brazil’s cities safer, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

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The CNT/MDA poll showed Brazilians are more worried about the economy, jobs and public security than controversies that surround Bolsonaro, who had to fire his culture secretary last week for copying Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels in a speech.

Reversing a steady decline in popularity in his first year in office, the number of Brazilians who viewed his government as great or good climbed to 34.5% from 29.4% in August, the survey showed, while 31% now see the government as bad or terrible, down from 39.5% previously.

Bolsonaro’s personal approval rating jumped to 47.8% from 41% in August, while those who disapprove of the way he is governing Brazil dropped to 47% from 53.7% in August.

The areas in which his government is considered to have performed well include fighting corruption, boosting the economy and public security, while it is seen as falling short on health, education and the environment, according to the survey.

Though the next presidential election is not until 2022, if the vote was held today, Bolsonaro would have a solid lead over former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the poll found, backed by 29.1% of those surveyed versus 17.0% for the once-popular leftist leader.

“This poll is very good for Bolsonaro,” said Lucas de Aragão, a partner in Brasilia’s ARKO Advice consultancy.

Economic growth is expected to more than double its pace to 2.3% this year, there is a steady decline in unemployment and a significant drop in the world’s highest homicide rate, he said.

“Brazilians are far more worried about public safety, employment, inflation and the real economy than with issues such as Nazism,” Aragão said. “If the economy continues to expand and Bolsonaro steers clear of corruption scandals, his popularity will rise further.”

Commissioned by transport sector lobby CNT, the poll was carried out by MDA and surveyed 2,002 people from Jan. 15-18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Reporting by Gabriel Ponte and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Nick Macfie, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis