Up and down with the agrarian question: Issue attention and land reform in contemporary Brazil


The two most recent Brazilian presidents have both surprised observers with their land reform programs but for very different reasons. Despite presiding over a center-right government with strong ties to large landowners and a state-shrinking economic program, Fernando Henrique Cardoso implemented easily the largest rural land redistribution in Brazilian history. As the leader of a leftist party and a historic champion of radical land reform, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva seemed to have sterling pro-land reform credentials. Yet Lula's program has, by some key measures, fallen well short of Cardoso's. This article attempts to explain these two anomalous outcomes. Drawing on Downs' concept of the "issueattention cycle," it argues that the trajectory of land reform under Cardoso and Lula largely reflects the impact of a variable rarely cited in analyses of Brazilian politics: public issue saliency. This argument holds implications for both the future of land reform in Brazil and our broader understanding of the Brazilian political system.


Political Science

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Politics and Policy