#eleições2022: How Bolsonaro’s and Lula’s Campaigns are Targeting Voters in Brazil on Facebook and Instagram

By Felipe Soares, Philip Mai and Anatoliy Gruzd

Brazilians are about to decide who is going to be their president for the next four years. The election pits two bitter rivals, the right-wing populist incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and the leftist former president Lula da Silva in a much-watched Brazilian election.

For some, this year’s Brazilian election is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism politics and a gauge on the health of democracy in the world. With just a few days left until Sunday’s election (October 30, 2022), Brazilian voters are being bombarded online by political ads and misinformation. Online and on social media, people are seeing posts falsely accusing Lula of planning to shut down churches or that Bolsonaro is a cannibal

Misinformation in Brazilian elections is not new. But since the 2018 elections, politics in Brazil have seen a rise in political polarization and a growing reliance on social media as a source for political news. According to a recent report, 78% of Brazilians use social media for politics, which makes political ads on social media important in the electoral dispute. 

As part of an international election transparency initiative, the Social Media Lab developed a data visualization tool called PoliDashboard which analyzes data (from select countries) about political advertisers and the ads that they are currently running on Meta’s various online services, including Facebook and Instagram. The dashboard uses data from the Facebook Ad Library, a searchable database of all political advertisements currently running on Meta’s platforms. Our aim with Polidashboard is to make the political ads data provided by Meta more useful and accessible by providing users with a better sense of who the advertisers are trying to target with each ads and which demographic group advertisers are trying to reach with their overall ads spend.

Today, we are releasing the Brazilian’s version of PoliDashboard, which tracks the Most Active Political Advertisers in Brazil, ranked by the total number of ads they are running and broken down by the spending range that they paid for each ad. For privacy and competitive reasons, Meta only releases ads price for each ads within certain predefined ranges. 

Accompanying this release is a brief analysis that we have done to show how journalists, campaign staffers and researchers can use PoliDashboard to examine real political ads spending choices by Bolsonaro’s and Lula’s campaigns on Meta’s platforms in near real time. This analysis covers ads that ran across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger between October 17 to October 23, 2022. During this period, Bolsonaro’s campaign ran 123 ads and Lula’s campaign ran 162 ads (see Table 1 below).

Table 1. Political ads across Meta’s platforms by Bolsonaro and Lula (Oct 17-23, 2022)

R$0 – 99R$100 – 499R$500- 999R$1000 – 4999R$5000+TotalTotal spent
Bolsonaro1712134437123R$887.3k – R$1.092M
Lula224742438162R$194.9k – R$251.3k

Although Bolsonaro paid for fewer ads than Lula, Bolsonaro’s campaign spent approximately four times more than Lula’s campaign on Meta’s various platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. This is because Bolsonaro bought more ads in the range of R$5000+, which is the most expensive range for ads with Meta in Brazil. In total, Bolsonaro’s campaign spent between R$887.3k and R$1.092M. Lula’s campaign spent between R$194.9k – R$251.3k. As noted earlier, Facebook reports ad spending as a range with a maximum and minimum. These values are the sum of these maxima and minima for all ads by each advertiser.

Method: How to read summary charts

Figure 1. Sample box plot representation

  • To give voters a bird’s eye view of how politicians, such as Bolsonaro and Lula, spend their ad budget on Facebook as a whole and who they are targeting with their various ads, we automatically aggregate gender and age breakdowns for all ads purchased by an individual advertiser into a single chart and summarize them using box plots. 
  • A box plot is a convenient way to summarize a series of data points (a dataset). The beginning and end of the line indicate the min and max value respectively, excluding outliers (Figure 1). Data points displayed before or after the min and max values are considered to be statistical outliers. In our case, outliers are one-off ads that tend to target a particular demographic group more or less than usual. 
  • The “box” in a box plot represents where 50% of all data points reside. The vertical line inside the box represents the median value, often defined as the “middle” value because it divides the lower half from the higher half of values in the dataset. In our context, the median value can be considered as a “typical” percentage of that demographic group targeted by the advertiser based on a given time period. 

Figure 2. Sample location of ads representation

  • We do the same breakdown based on states in Brazil. Each dot in these charts represents a single ad.
  • Hover over any dot on the chart to see which other demographic group(s) on Meta’s platforms were shown that particular political ad (labeled as A in Figure 2).
  • If all other dots that appear on the chart (other than the dot you hovered over) is at or close to the 0% mark on the x-axis (labeled as B in Figure 2), it suggests that particular ad was only (or mostly) targeted at that specific demographic group and no other.
  • Users can also click on the dot to see the actual ad and all of its stats as provided by Facebook Ad Library in a new window.

Analysis: Gender and Age

Both campaigns are targeting more women than men with their paid Meta ads. In the latest polls, Lula leads among women by 55% to 45%. Among men, Bolsonaro leads by 51% to 49%. Our data shows that Lula is trying to consolidate his advantage among women, while Bolsonaro is trying to bridge the gap that has opened between him and women voters in Brazil.

In terms of the age groups, Bolsonaro’s campaign has a stronger emphasis on reaching Meta users 44 years old or younger, and especially those who are between 18-34 years old (Figure 3). Lula’s ads are reaching similar age groups between 25-44 years old, but the distribution of these ads is not as skewed towards younger voters as the case might be with Bolsonaro’s ads (Figure 4). We also note that Lula’s ads are reaching a relative high proportion of 45-54 years old users, a group where he and Bolsonaro are tied. This strategy is likely an effort by Lula’s campaign to win over undecided voters in this age group. In short, these ads targeting decisions by the respective campaign track well with results from recent polls. According to the polls, Lula leads among younger voters ages between 16-44 years olds, the candidates are tied among 45-59 years olds and Bolsonaro leads in the group of 60+ years old.

Figure 3. Gender and age data from Bolsonaro’s ads

Click to view the live interactive version of the PoliDashboard for Brazil: https://ads.polidashboard.com/facebook_ads_v2?country=br

Figure 4. Gender and age data from Lula’s ads

Click to view the live interactive version of the PoliDashboard for Brazil: https://ads.polidashboard.com/facebook_ads_v2?country=br

Analysis: Location

In terms of location where ads were shown, Bolsonaro’s campaign ran more exclusive and targeted one-off ads on Meta in more states (14 states) in Brazil than Lula’s campaign (three states). We know this because the data points shown on the very far right of the charts in Figures 5 and 6 indicate those ads that were shown to Meta users in only one specific geographic location or region in Brazil. 

Many of Bolsonaro’s ads target Minas Gerais (MG) and Rio de Janeiro (RJ), two of the three states with the biggest population in Brazil (Figure 5). Bolsonaro lost in Minas Gerais in the first round, so this might be a strategy to change the result in this key state in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is where Bolsonaro built up his political life. Bolsonaro won with slightly over 51% of the votes in Rio de Janeiro in the first round. 

Aside from Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro’s campaign is also running a lot of ads in the Northeast region, which consists of the states of Ceara (CE), Bahia (BA), Pernambuco (PE), Paraiba (PB), Maranhao (MA), Alagoas (AL), Sergipe (SE), Rio Grande do Norte (RN) and Piaui (PI) (Figure 5). This shows that Bolsonaro’s campaign is targeting voters from the Northeast, the only region in Brazil where he lost in all the states in the first round. This is likely a strategy to pick off a few of Lula’s votes in these states.

Lula’s campaign on the other hand only had exclusive and targeted one-off ads on Meta for Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, the three states with the biggest population in Brazil (Figure 6). We also note a more even distribution of the ads across the remaining states. In the top 10 states with targeted ads from Lula’s campaign, there were three for the Southeast (SP, RJ, MG), four for the Northeast (BA, PI, PE, SE), and one for the Central-West (GO), North (AC) and South (SC) regions of Brazil. Lula won in five of these states in the first round, and came in second in the other five. Lula’s campaign is using a less targeted strategy for ads in terms of location when compared to Bolsonaro’s campaign.

Figure 5. Location data from Bolsonaro’s ads

Click to view the live interactive version of the PoliDashboard for Brazil: https://ads.polidashboard.com/facebook_ads_v2?country=br

Figure 6. Location data from Lula’s ads

Click to view the live interactive version of the PoliDashboard for Brazil: https://ads.polidashboard.com/facebook_ads_v2?country=br


In summary, data from PoliDashboard shows that Bolsonaro’s campaign is using a more targeted approach in the lead up to the runoff. Bolsonaro’s campaign is also focusing on groups and regions where he has a disadvantage, such as women, younger voters, and the Northeast states in Brazil. Lula’s campaign is targeting groups where he has the advantage in terms of age and gender. Most of Lula’s ads target women and those between 25-44 years old. In terms of location, Lula’s ads are more distributed across different regions of Brazil. His campaign has more exclusive and targeted one-off ads on Meta targeted to users in Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, three key states in the election because they are the biggest in population in Brazil.

The different strategies between the campaigns are likely a consequence of the results in the first round and data from the latest polls. Lula led with 48.43% of the votes, while Bolsonaro came in second with 43.2% of the votes. Lula’s campaign is focusing on consolidating the votes Lula already received in the first round, since he needs just a small margin to get the majority of votes in the runoff. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, might need to flip some votes to win the election. That’s why Bolsonaro’s campaign is focusing on groups that primarily support Lula.