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How the Brazilian Presidential elections affected Internet traffic


8 min read

This post is also available in 简体中文 and 繁體中文.

Brasil, sei lá
Ou o meu coração se engana
Ou uma terra igual não há
— From Tom Jobim’s song, Brasil Nativo

Brazil’s recent presidential election got significant attention from both global and national media outlets, not only because of the size of the country, but also because of premature allegations of electoral fraud. The first round of the Brazilian 2022 general election was held on October 2, and the runoff was held on Sunday, October 30. With 124 million votes counted, former president Lula da Silva (2003-2010) won with 50.9% of the votes, beating incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who had 49.1% of the votes.

The final results of the elections as published by the official Tribunal Super Eleitoral, with more than 124 million votes counted.)
The final results of the elections as published by the official Tribunal Superior Eleitoral, with more than 124 million votes counted.)

Using Cloudflare’s data, we can explore the impact that this election had on Internet traffic patterns in Brazil, as well as interest in content from election-related websites, news organizations, social media platforms, and video platforms.

Here are a few highlights: while the runoff generated much more interest to election related websites (we actually have a view to DNS queries, a proxy to websites), the first round showed bigger increases in traffic to news organizations.

For the candidate’s domains, Lula’s win had the higher impact.

Also: official results came earlier on the runoff than the first round, and spikes in traffic were higher earlier that day (October 30).

(Note: we’re using local times — that means UTC-3, that is related to the more populated regions of Brazil — in this blog, although some charts have x-axis UTC).

Let’s start by looking at general Internet traffic in Brazil.

On election days, traffic goes down (during the day)

Using Cloudflare Radar, we can see something that has also been observed in other countries that hold Sunday elections: when most people are getting outside to vote, Internet traffic goes down (in comparison with previous Sundays). We saw this in the two rounds of the Presidential elections in France back in April 2022, in Portugal’s legislative elections in January 2022 and now, in Brazil.

We can also compare Sundays in October. There were five weekends. The two that had elections show the same pattern of lower traffic during the day, as seen in the previous chart. Comparing the two election days, there was a bigger drop in traffic on October 30 (down 21% at around 18:00 local time), than on October 2 (down 10% at around 20:00). Related or not, there was a bigger turnout on the runoff (124 million votes) than on the first round (123 million). Here’s the view on October 30:

And here’s October 2:

A more clear view in comparing the October weekends, and where you can see how the October 2 and 30 Sundays have the same pattern and different from the others three of the month, is this one (bear in mind that the x-axis is showing UTC time, it’s -3 hours in Brazil):

If we look at the main network providers (ASNs) in Brazil, the trend is the same. Claro (AS28573) also shows the drop in traffic on October 30, as does Telefonica (AS27699):

Here’s Telefonica:

We observed a similar impact from the October 30 runoff election to traffic from different states in Brazil, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Minas Gerais, and Bahia.

Mobile device usage greater on weekends (and on election days)

When we look at the share of Brazil’s Internet traffic from mobile devices during October, we find that the highest percentages were on October 2 (first round of the elections, 66.3%), October 9 (66.4%) and October 30 (runoff election, 65%). We’ve seen this in other elections, an increase in mobile device usage, so this seems to follow the same trend.

This chart also shows how mobile device usage in Brazil is at its highest on the weekends (all the main spikes for percentage of mobile devices are over the weekend, and more on Sundays).

Now, let’s look at anonymized and aggregated DNS traffic data from our resolver. This data provides a proxy for traffic to, and thus interest in, different categories of sites from users in Brazil around the election.

Brazil has government websites related to elections, but also its own Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (Electoral Superior Court) that includes a website and app with live updates on the results of the elections for everyone to check. Looking at those related domains and using mean hourly traffic in September as a baseline, we can see that the October 2 first round spiked to 16x more DNS queries at 20:00 local time. However, DNS query traffic during the runoff election peaked at 18:00 local time on October 30 with 17.4x more DNS traffic as compared to the September baseline.

We can look more closely at each one of those two election days. On October 2, traffic had its first significant increase at around 17:00 local time, reaching 15x more requests to election-related domains as compared to the September baseline. This initial peak occurred at the same time the polling stations were closing. However, the peak that day, at 16x above baseline, was reached at 20:00 local time, as seen in the figure below.

On Sunday, October 30, 2022, the pattern is similar, although the peak was reached earlier, given that results started to arrive earlier than on the first round. The peak was reached at around 18:00 local time, with request traffic 17.4x above baseline.

As seen in the figure below, Lula first led in the official results at 18:45 local time, with votes from 67% of the polling stations counted at that time. Around 20:00 Lula was considered the winner (the peak seen in the previous chart was at that time).

Candidate websites: in the end, winner takes all?

For Lula-related domains, there are clear spikes around the first round of elections on October 2. A 13x spike was observed on October 1 at around 21:00 local time. Two notable spikes were observed on October 2 — one at 16.7x above baseline at 09:00 local time, and the other at 10.7x above baseline at 21:00 local time. During the October 30 runoff election, only one clear spike was observed. The spike, at 16.7x above baseline, occurred at around 20:00, coincident with the time Lula was being announced as the winner.

For Bolsonaro-related domains, we observed a different pattern. Increased traffic as compared to the baseline is visible in the days leading up to the first round election, reaching 10x on September 30. On October 2, a 8x spike above baseline was seen at 18:00 local time. However, the two most significant spikes seen over the course of the month were observed on October 16, at 20x above baseline, a few hours after the first Lula-Bolsonaro television debate, and on October 25, at around 20:00, at 22x above baseline. That was the last week of campaigning before the October 30 runoff and when several polling predictions were announced. The second and last Bolsonaro-Lula debate was on October 28, and there’s a spike at 22:00 to Lula’s websites, and a smaller but also clear one at 21:00 to Bolsonaro’s websites).

News websites: more interest in the first round

With official election results being available more rapidly, DNS traffic for Brazilian news organization websites peaked much earlier in the evening than what we saw in France, for example, where more definitive election results arrived much later on election day. But another interesting trend here is how the first round, on October 2, had 9.1x more DNS traffic (compared with the September baseline), than what we saw during the runoff on October 30 (6.1x).

The way the results arrived faster also had an impact on the time of the peak, occurring at around 19:00 local time on October 30, as compared to around 20:00 on October 2.

At 19:45 local time on October 30, Lula was already the winner with more than 98% of the votes counted. After 20:00 there was a clear drop in DNS traffic to news organizations.

On October 2, it was only around 22:00 that it became official that there would be a runoff between Lula and Bolsonaro. Peak request volume was reached at 20:00 (9x), but traffic remained high (8x) at around 21:00 and until 22:00, like the following chart shows:

Conclusion: Real world events impact the Internet

Cloudflare Radar, our tool for Internet insights, can provide a unique perspective on how major global or national events impact the Internet. It is interesting to not only see that a real world event can impact Internet traffic (and different types of websites) for a whole country, but also see how much that impact is represented at specific times. It’s all about human behavior at relevant moments in time, like elections as a collective event is.

Past examples of this include important presidential elections, the Super Bowl, the Oscars, Eurovision, never before seen views of the universe from a telescope , the holiday shopping season, or religious events such as Ramadan.

You can keep an eye on these trends using Cloudflare Radar.

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Cloudflare RadarInternet TrafficTrendsBrazilElection Security

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João Tomé|@emot

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