Brazil was ripe for an autocrat, and efforts to dismiss those who elected Jair Bolsonaro as prejudicial or uninformed are misguided, according to Dr. Peter Harms at The University of Alabama.

Harms is the author of the paper “Autocratic Leaders and Authoritarian Followers Revisited: A Review and Agenda for the Future,” published earlier this year in The Leadership Quarterly.

The reasons many people choose to follow autocratic leaders vary across time, culture and circumstances, but Brazil’s recent history of corruption and a tumbling economy have people looking for order and a predictable environment, even if that comes with some discrimination.

“Bolsonaro comes across as forthright and honest, and that is a welcome change for people who have grown cynical with being lied to by the traditional parties," Harms said.

Harms’ research shows societies need to understand autocratic leaders and their followers across the globe without resorting to methods that strip away assumptions of value to the characteristics of followers of autocratic leaders.

"Rather than resorting to oversimplified explanations or pinning nasty labels on those who embrace individuals who promise them strong leadership, we need to understand them," he said. "Our research suggests that such impulses are a cry for help, and that many people are pushed towards this orientation in response to what they believe is a hopeless situation that they are incapable of solving on their own.”

Harms is an assistant professor of management at the Culverhouse College of Commerce at UA. He received his Ph.D. in personality psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the assessment and development of personality, leadership, and psychological well-being. He has published over 80 peer-reviewed articles.