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Revista de Administração Pública

Print version ISSN 0034-7612On-line version ISSN 1982-3134

Rev. Adm. Pública vol.52 no.5 Rio de Janeiro Sept./Oct. 2018 


Technical-ministers and politician-ministers during PSDB and PT presidencies

Adriano Codato¹ 

Paulo Franz² 

¹ Universidade Federal do Paraná / Departamento de Ciência Política, Curitiba / PR — Brazil

² Universidade Federal do Paraná / Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciência Política, Curitiba / PR — Brazil


Studies on ministerial recruitment have identified the presence of professional politicians as well as technicians within the Brazilian ministerial cabinet. However, career analyses are restricted to technicians, while studies on political ministers have largely focused on party recruitment criteria. The objective of this article is twofold: to empirically demonstrate the differences and similarities between the careers of political and non-political ministers “technicians” during PSDB and PT presidential administrations between 1995 and 2014; and to explore the main aspects regarding the professionalization of politician ministers based on their experiences in elective and high-ranking positions in county and municipal administrations. The results indicate that both politicians and non-politicians have extensive professional experience, including administrative experience, although non-politicians have greater affinity with the ministerial area for which they were appointed as do ministers affiliated with the president’s party when compared to politicians of the allied base. Notwithstanding these nuances, no significant differences were found between PSDB and PT administrations regarding the expertise of their ministers.

Keywords: ministerial recruitment; State ministers; political career; expertise; PT; PSDB.


Several researches have shown that the professional profile of ministers in Brazil is highly diversified (D’Araujo, 2009; Inácio, 2013). The cabinets contain technicians, employees from public companies and from higher education institutions (Nunes 1997; Schneider 1991), as well as politicians with a structured career in elective and appointed positions in high-ranking public administration offices (Amorim Neto, 2006; Figueiredo and Limongi, 2001). While these professional profiles have already been adequately identified in the scholarly literature, differences among these agents have been underexplored. Moreover, ministerial recruitment studies generally focus on the relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches (Amorim Neto, 2007; Figueiredo and Limongi, 2001), limiting their analysis to the party composition of the cabinets and paying little attention to the professional credentials of the ministers.

With this article we hope to evaluate the expertise of politician and non-politician ministers in Brazil and to compare the ministerial cabinets during the PSDB and PT presidential administrations according to the following criteria: i) amount and type of offices held by ministers prior to appointment; ii) career time; iii) level of education; iv) specific competences related to the occupied portfolio; and v) the experience of those appointed to high-ranking public administration cabinets.

The data discussed here refers to all ministers appointed between 1995 and 2014 — permanent and interim — and who held a ministerial position for at least three months. This time interval encompasses the following administrations: Cardoso I (1995-1998), Cardoso II (1999-2002), Lula I (2003-2006), Lula II (2007-2010), and Dilma I (2011-2014). This corresponds, in total, to 327 ministerial mandates exercised by 246 ministers (including repetitions and renewals). For a more consistent comparison between administrations, we grouped the ministerial cabinets according to the political parties of the presidents: PSDB (Cardoso) and PT (Lula, Dilma).

In the first section we present the literature on ministerial recruitment, dividing this production between works that focused their analyses on the partisan criteria for appointing government cabinets and works concerned with the career profile of ministers deemed more “technical” or without clear party links. In the second section we specify our categorization and data treatment. In the third section we present the results of our research by stratifying the data between “politician” ministers and “non-politician” ministers, in addition to comparing the PSDB and PT administrations, particularly with regard to two career attributes: level of expertise for the position and administrative experience. Lastly, the conclusion summarizes our central findings.


Studies on ministerial recruitment have underlined the presence of ministers with diverse professional backgrounds in the Brazilian cabinet (Amorim Neto 2007; D’Araujo 2009, 2014; Inácio, 2013). In short, the authors’ conclusion is that professional politicians have always shared the space with ministers with a more technical profile without monopolizing ministerial portfolios. The authors underline the key role played by politicians for the stability of the relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches when, during the formation of the cabinet, party proportionality for the number of seats in the National Congress is respected. As for technicians, researches have argued that their appointments were an essential condition for the implementation of economic modernization projects such as during the Fourth Republic (1945-1964) and during the dictatorship-military regime (Geddes, 1994; Mantega, 1984; Nunes, 1997; Schneider, 1991).

Studies regarding the technical profile of ministerial cabinets have underlined the President’s control strategies over the State’s high-level bureaucracy. Major modernization projects faced serious obstacles in the bureaucratic apparatus. Vargas and Kubitschek, when faced with a highly politicized bureaucratic estate, which lacked the necessary technical knowledge or interest to back major capitalist transformation programs, decided to “insulate” the public administration. Insulation meant separating decisive secretariats and organs for their development projects of patronage organs, used as a bargaining chip to obtain political support and endorsement from the governing coalition. The insulated areas of congressional politics would be mostly occupied by individuals recruited in parallel to traditional investiture schemes and by meritocratic rather than partisan criteria. Nunes found that during the JK administration, 40% of Ministers were appointed without any prior party or legislative experience. Moreover, politicians within the public bureaucracy worked mainly in credit distribution agencies, such as regional and local public banks and financiers, with great potential for political patronage. This allowed agencies, state-owned companies, and authorities that were strategic for the industrialization policies to be occupied by career technicians and/or bureaucrats connected, personally or not, to the president (Nunes, 1997). This strategy, according to the literature, was responsible for allowing Kubitschek to implement his Plan of Goals (Plano de Metas). By requisitioning competent personnel, Juscelino was able to circumvent the traditional bureaucracy, the political parties, and the National Congress for the occupation of key positions within the state apparatus. The highest expression of this movement was the creation of the Development Council and the Executive Groups, which organized and coordinated the economic measures required by the Plan. Their main advantage was that they were comprised by the same people responsible for implementing the projects. This allowed Juscelino Kubitschek to circumvent bureaucratic inefficiencies and party appointments, which ultimately streamlined the implementation of his development projects (Mantega, 1984; Nunes, 1997).

Bureaucratic appointment strategies such as those by Vargas or Kubitschek are probably no longer possible in Brazil’s current institutional context. Since the 1988 Constitution, parties as well as the National Congress have sufficient political control over the public machine and the Executive so that they are not oblivious to complex public policies or macroeconomic projects (Figueiredo, 2010:206). This is not entirely negative. According to some viewpoints, political control over public bureaucracies is crucial in a representative democracy since elected politicians must ensure that the bureaucracy acts in accordance with their preferences and is held accountable for its choices and implemented programs (Figueiredo, 2010). Schneider, by means of in-depth surveys and interviews with bureaucrats, directors, and ministers in the economic field during the dictatorship-military regime, shows how professional politicians are often best suited for positions and offices that are more sensitive to political pressure, ensuring a greater connection with other fields and technical autonomy to the bureaucratic body of agencies and companies related to their portfolio (Schneider, 1991).

Other studies on ministerial appointments have focused on governability within Brazilian presidentialism. The central idea is that presidentialism, in a federative and multipartisan context in which the president’s party seldom holds a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, forces the head of State to form broad party-political coalitions in order to approve the Executive’s legislative actions. In exchange for political support, the government’s bargaining chip would be control positions in ministries and in the high-level federal bureaucracy for individuals appointed by allied parties in Parliament (Abranches, 1988).

The analysis of the partisan logic for the filling of positions within the Executive clarified several dimensions of the workings of “coalition presidentialism”, such as the compliance to party weight proportion in Congress within the ministerial cabinet and its effects on the use of certain prerogatives by the Presidency (Amorim Neto, 1994, 2006; Figueiredo and Limongi, 2001). However, this particular way of forming a ministry is also quite common in other countries with multi-party cabinets such as Italy (Mershon, 1996; Thies, 2001) and Chile (Dávila et al., 2013), for example. Essentially, these works analyzed the effectiveness of ministerial appointments based on political stability and governability by focusing on the delegations of power that occur when a party coalition assumes government leadership in parliamentary regimes. The idea is that some actions by the involved actors tend to reduce the costs of political delegation for allied parties when these actors are appointed to head a ministerial portfolio (Mershon, 1996). There is always a burden in the president’s delegation of power to allied parties since decisions by these actors may be far removed from the interests of the president and his program. Carroll and Cox analyzed the likelihood of agencies being created to serve as loci for monitoring and supervising ministerial portfolios bargained in exchange for political support. Presidents would appoint individuals of their personal trust for controlling programs formulated and implemented by the minister (Carroll and Cox, 2011).1

Thies, through the use of comparative data from multi-partisan parliamentary countries, arrives to the conclusion that the “traditional distinction between presidential and parliamentary systems is overstated” (Thies, 2001:596). The president’s supervision over allied parties by means of trust appointments in control agencies happens in both systems of government. Thus, what could substantially differentiate the president’s strategies for effecting his program would not be the system of government, but rather the number of parties in cabinet (majority single-party cabinet or a coalition cabinet in conjunction with allied parties).

In Brazil, the scholarly literature on the appointment of ministers is primarily inserted within the debate regarding the president’s conditions of governability and his relations with the Legislative Branch. The argument states that “coalition presidentialism” offers more alternatives to the head of State to form a cabinet than a parliamentary regime (Amorim Neto, 2006; Araújo, Silva and Vieira, 2016; Batista, 2013; Figueiredo and Limongi, 2001). However, within a setting of several effective parties, and with increasing party fragmentation in Congress, the coalition costs required for governability increase (Pereira, Bertholini and Raile, 2016). If the coalescence rate — the ratio between the number of party seats in parliament and the ministerial cabinet — decreases, as it happened in the PT administrations (2003-2014) with allied parties in the National Congress being underrepresented in ministerial cabinets, the presidential power becomes more vulnerable and political crises intensified.

While these conclusions are convincing for clarifying the political-partisan criteria for appointing ministers, they restrict the analysis to the rationale of political clienteles. Moreover, since the analytical focus of government performance is on the approval of provisional measures in the Legislative Branch, we remain largely oblivious as to the agents’ profile and the actual functioning of the Executive Branch.

Only recently have authors studied the career profile of politician ministers. These works have found important differences between the individuals nominated for Brazilian cabinets. Inácio (2013) attempts to answer which minister profile parties favor in their nominations. Essentially, the profile varies in Congress according to party size: smaller parties within the allied base tend to nominate representatives with little political experience; in turn, parties with more seats usually appoint politicians already occupying party leadership positions in the House or Senate (Inácio, 2013). Cavalcante and Palotti (2016) have shown the existence of a technical minister profile, with a background in the specialty of the headed ministry in addition to declaring a second profession, while recruited politicians held political positions in the period immediately prior to the appointment in addition to having held prior party leadership positions. Their conclusions are that the PT administrations were comprised of ministers with more political-party experience whereas ministers recruited in previous administrations (Itamar Franco and Cardoso) had more family political ties, a symptom of the permanence of a more traditional elite during the 1990s’ administrations (Cavalcante and Palotti, 2016).

Within the context of this debate, the specific objective of this article is to comparatively examine the technical or political inclination in different ministerial appointments in Brazil and to measure the administrative experience of professional politicians appointed to cabinets during the PSDB and PT administrations. We start from a few basic questions: 1) was the ministry of the Cardoso administration more technical than the Lula and Dilma administrations? Or, to put it differently, was the PT ministry much more partisan than the PSDB ministry?; 2) what is the level of expertise of the politicians appointed to cabinets in the PT and PSDB administrations regarding the specific issue of their portfolios?; 3) are politicians indeed much less experienced on the issues of their ministries than technical-ministers?


Ministers seldom fit into pure categories such as “technicians” or “politicians”. In their research regarding top-level appointments by the federal governments in the 1990s, Loureiro and Abrucio (1999) and Loureiro, Abrucio, and Rosa (1998) showed that the occupants of such positions were simultaneously technicians and politicians as they had attributes and modes of action that coupled both characteristics. The literature on public leaders has shown the growing presence of “politicians increasingly grounding their actions on technical discourses and bureaucrats reinforcing the political dimension in their performance calculation” (Loureiro and Abrucio, 1999:70). This is a hybrid model, called policymaker by the authors. Even if these agents have no party affiliations and have been nominated solely because of their specific expertise regarding the ministry’s jurisdiction, their actions in the public sector should answer to the political orientations of their governments. As Pinto and Tavares de Almeida have stated regarding the same phenomenon in Portuguese democracy,

There is a {growing} number of hybrid ministers who couple political skills developed in parties and legislatures with expertise acquired through academic training and experience in parliamentary and governmental committees. {Pinto and Tavares de Almeida, 2014:2}

Our classification separates professional politicians from non-politicians (a more appropriate denomination than “technicians”) according to the individuals’ predominant occupational sector of origin. This allows us to compare the types prioritized by different presidents in their ministerial appointment strategies and their respective administration profiles. By dividing the universe into these two categories, we aim to explore if significant differences exist between career patterns in terms of education, experience, and the expertise of Brazilian ministers.

The basic criterion for classifying ministers as politicians and non-politicians was an analysis of the career of the last four positions held before heading a ministerial office. Ministers in Brazil are, in general, individuals with lengthy professional careers and with intense rotation, passing through countless and diverse positions (public, private, semipublic, nominated, elective, by contest, etc.). This, however, does not prevent us from finding different career patterns.

We categorize politicians as ministers who, in their preceding four positions, have mostly occupied (50% or more): i) elective positions (councilor, mayor, deputy, senator, governor), ii) party positions (members, secretaries, and presidents of regional and national directories, as well as municipal, county, and national political party executive positions) and iii) first-level appointment positions (municipal secretary, secretary, minister).2 In turn, non-politicians were ministers whose careers (as well as their last four positions prior to their ministerial office) were mostly in public positions and/or in medium and low-tier trust positions, as well as professors, academics, and private executives (Pedro Malan, Franklin Martins, and Miriam Belchior, for example).

Since our classification was based on the predominance of positions held in the period exactly prior to the ministerial portfolio, non-politicians should not necessarily be understood here as “technicians” or “technocrats”, given that their careers are often hybrid and they may have held public offices before, albeit not central to their professional careers. Jorge Hage, for example, the chief minister of the Comptroller General of the Union during the Lula and Dilma administrations, held elective positions as mayor (1975-1977) and federal deputy (1987-1991) over the course of his professional career. However, his preceding positions before ministerial appointment were not related to the political world, which would not characterize him as a professional politician.

Graph 1shows the distribution of politicians and non-politicians per administration according to the parties of the presidents.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (113); PT (214). Pearson Chi Square: 2,098 (0,148).

Graph 1 Proportion of politician and non-politician ministers according to the parties of the presidents (1995-2014) (%) 

For our data collection and analysis we considered all ministries — including “extraordinary” ministries — of the Cardoso, Lula, and Dilma administrations in addition to the various secretariats with a ministerial status. During this period there were 51 different ministries and secretariats. For a more efficient handling of the data, we divided the ministries and the direct advisory secretariats into three types based on their specific functions. The division takes into account some categories used in the scholarly literature (Dávila et al., 2013, Gené, 2016; Inácio, 2013) as well as the explicit functions declared in the original bills of these portfolios.

The categories and portfolios — here with standardized names due to the great variation in nomenclature between 1995 and 2014 — included in each type are:

  • economic: Agriculture, Communications, Finance, Industry, National Integration, Environment, Mines and Energy, Fishing, Planning, Transport, Tourism, General Secretariat of Ports;

  • political: Federal Attorney’s Office, Chief of Staff, Comptroller General of the Union, State Administration and Reform, Science and Technology, Defense, Justice, Extraordinary Ministry of Institutional Reforms (FHC I), Extraordinary Ministry of Political Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Secretariat for Institutional Relations (Lula), Secretariat for Strategic Affairs, Secretariat for Social Communication, General Secretariat of the Presidency;

  • social: Culture, Education, Health, Social Security, Cities, Agrarian Development, Social Development, Sport, Environment, Labor, Secretariat for Human Rights, Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality, Special Secretariat for Policies for Women.

The collected data refers to the 246 individuals who headed a ministerial position between 1995 and 2014. Thus, the observation unit refers to the ministers of the Cardoso, Lula, and Dilma administrations. However, the criterion for filling the database are the ministerial mandates. This means that if a minister has held the same portfolio over two presidential terms3 he will appear duplicated in our database. Similarly, we added individuals who headed more than one ministerial portfolio, even if only during one presidential term.4 As a result, our unit of analysis are the mandates, not the individuals, and the results of the statistical tests refer to the universe of 327 cases.

Another categorization is the variable “level of expertise” by which we sought to measure the degree of specific competences linked to the occupied ministerial portfolio (Gené, 2016). We analyzed whether ministers possessed the necessary knowledge and know-how in the jurisdiction of the headed ministries. The expertise index was generated from the proportional relation between the issue of the portfolio and the field of the positions previously occupied by the minister on a scale of 0 to 1. The index consists of a specialization ratio that evaluates the experience and the technical knowledge of the minister for the portfolio. A Health minister who has acted exclusively as a doctor, whether in administrative offices in hospitals or medical courses, will have 1 expertise. A finance minister who has held 10 positions over the course of his career, from which only five are related to the economic field — financial institutions, public bank administration, economics courses, and consultancies — will have 0.5 expertise.5

For the classifications used in this analysis, we take into account all positions held by ministers from the beginning of their professional careers, regardless of their importance or nature (private, public, political, autonomous) and not only public and/or political positions. Only then could we classify ministers according to their predominant professional background and evaluate their level of thematic specialization.

The biographical data on ministers who served in presidential administrations between 1995 and 2014 were collected from the institutional website of the Brazilian historical-biographical dictionary of the Contemporary Brazilian History Research and Documentation Center of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV/CPDOC) at the Presidency Library, in addition to entries available on the internet and online newspapers.


4.1 Number of positions and previous career time

The first tests refer to all ministers (politician and non-politicians), stratifying the data according to their career profiles so that we may compare the professional career of politician ministers with non-politicians on two fronts of information: i) number of positions occupied before being appointed to the portfolio and ii) career time prior to the ministerial office. We expected that non-politician ministers, regardless of the governing party, will have more experience, at least in number of offices, since technical and/or bureaucratic offices tend to be more rotating and shorter than elective political offices (usually with four-year terms). Graphs 2 and 3 present the results with the information separated by the president’s party.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR., Number of cases: PSDB (109);6 PT (214).

Graph 2 Number of previous positions of all ministers per party according to career profiles (1995-2014) 

The median throughout the analyzed period is 11 positions prior to the ministerial office for politician ministers, one more than the median for non-politicians. Graph 2 shows a larger number of prior positions held by ministries in the PSDB administration — a median of 12 positions for politicians and non-politicians —, which suggests greater experience in this period than in later PT mandates — with a median of 9 and 11 positions for non-politicians and professional politicians, respectively. This information can be confirmed further below by the ministers’ career time.

The number of positions in graph 2 takes into account the entire professional career of the analyzed individuals. Some outliers call attention, such as Paulo Renato, Pratini de Moraes, and Francisco Dornelles,7 which extend to over 30 prior positions. Paulo Renato, for example, had a career in management positions in private companies, boards of directors, secretaries, but mainly in academic positions. Another relevant information is the small difference, in both parties, between the average number of prior positions held by politician and non-politician ministers. This suggests that a long professional experience, characterized by a major circulation in positions both within and outside the State, serves as a springboard for ministerial appointments for politicians and non-politicians alike.

Actors who become ministers without intense career transit are exceptions (but they do exist, as shown in the previous graph). In general, their careers are made in the leadership of social movements and/or other leadership positions outside institutional politics, such as the former president of the ABC Metalworkers’ Union and Labor minister during the first Lula administration, Luiz Marinho. Specific exceptions were Pelé, who headed the extraordinary ministry of Sports during the first Cardoso administration, the Justice minister under the Lula administration, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, who had previously only headed a major law firm in São Paulo, and the Harvard professor, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, chief minister of the Secretariat for Strategic Action, also under the Lula administration. Among politicians, examples with the lowest number of positions are Arlindo Porto (Agriculture), who was mayor, vice governor, and senator before ministerial appointment during the first Cardoso administration, and Afonso Florence (Agrarian Development), who was secretary of Development and federal deputy (Bahia) until being appointed minister under the first Dilma government, both with four previous positions.

With the purpose of providing more confidence in the evaluation of the ministers’ professional experience, graph 3 shows the career extension of politicians and non-politicians. The data on career time was generated from subtracting the year in which the individual entered the ministry by the year in which they began their professional career.

Ministers under the PSDB administration are no more experienced than ministers under the PT administrations. In fact, the differences between the medians of the administrations are only one year — 31 years of career for the PSDB and 30 years for the PT —, with a small nuance presented in the bar regarding the PT administration in which politician ministers have shorter career times, largely because of the first Lula administration. His cabinet was marked by the presence of party leaderships and parliamentarians with less than 20 years of career time, such as Agnelo Queiroz (Sports), Aldo Rebelo (Secretariat for Institutional Relations), Marina Silva (Environment), Eduardo Campos (Science and Technology), and Paulo Bernardo (Planning).

Alongside the medians indicated in graph 2, this information allows us to conclude that, at least as far as professional experience is concerned, politician and non-politician ministers equate both in the occupation of positions as well as prior career time. Ministers are actors with a long history, characterized by an intense rotation of positions regardless of the sector of professional origin, whether in parliament, agencies, companies, or public and private bureaucracies. As for differences between both parties, we observed slightly larger numbers during the PSDB mandates, although these differences are not significant.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (109); PT (211).8

Graph 3 Prior career time in years for all ministers per party according to career profiles (1995-2014) 


On average, 90% of Brazilian ministers with a career mostly in politics have completed higher education, from which over half have postgraduate studies (specialization, master’s degree, and PhD).

During the Cardoso administrations, for example, the percentage of individuals with higher education is 95%: 45% of ministers have a university degree and more than 50% have some postgraduate diploma, primarily specialization. The proportion of ministers with a specialization degree is also high during the Lula administrations and the percentage of individuals with undergraduate diplomas is slightly higher (50%) than in the Cardoso administrations. However, the presence of ministers without an undergraduate degree is more significant in the PT administrations, especially in Lula’s first term (16.7%) and Dilma’s first term (20%).

We compared the level of education of the analyzed ministers, stratifying the data by parties (PSDB and PT) and by types of ministers (politicians and non-politicians). Our goal is to identify where the most educated ministers (with postgraduate degrees) are concentrated among these two administrations and among both analyzed career profiles. The results are shown in graph 4.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (113); PT (214). Pearson Chi Square PSDB: 6,944 (,014); PT: 31,355 (,000).

Graph 4 Level of education of politician and non-politician ministers according to the parties of the presidents (1995-2014) (%) 

The first significant point in graph 4 is the difference between the educational level of non-politicians and politicians in the administrations of both parties. We find practically twice as many ministers with postgraduate degrees among non-politicians than among professional politicians in the PSDB and PT cabinets. The difference in the level of education between politicians and non-politicians is sharper in PT administrations than in PSDB administrations, in which professional politicians tend to have lower educational levels than other ministers. Thus, it would be tempting to say that ministers have less specific competencies related to their portfolios in the PT administrations than in the PSDB administrations, since the higher level of education could indicate greater knowledge/expertise of the minister in relation to the subject under their responsibility in the cabinet. However, an analysis limited to educational level would reveal very little about the experience and the professional capital of ministers.

We translated ministerial expertise into a continuous numerical variable from 0 to 1, where 0 is no expertise and 1 is the maximum of professional expertise, by the proportion of positions the minister held throughout his career in regards to the issue of the ministerial portfolio. If a minister headed two different portfolios throughout the analyzed period, they may have expertise in one particular ministry but not another. This is an additional advantage in using ministerial mandates as our unit of analysis rather than ministers.

Graph 5shows the level of expertise of ministers separated by their career profile and the parties in government.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (112); PT (214).9

Graph 5l Leveof expertise of all ministers by career type according to the parties of the presidents (1995-2014) 

Differences in the levels of expertise of politicians between parties are minimal. The error bars are almost parallel. In turn, differences become apparent when we compare career profiles. The result is not entirely surprising: non-politician ministers tend to have more expertise than professional politicians. The qualities required of a non-politician minister are distinct from those that lend career politicians their cabinet appointment. However, the differences between both types draws attention, since our classification also attributes expertise to ministers with a career mostly in elected positions and who have headed ministries of a political nature (ministers classified as professional politicians who have headed ministries of a political nature should not have such a low level of expertise). In this sense, we sought to identify the spaces occupied by politician ministers recruited by the PSDB and the PT. Graph 6 shows politician ministers distributed by portfolio type (economic, social, or political). Given the results in graph 5 we may reasonably presume that politicians were appointed to economic or social ministries, which would explain the low level of expertise.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (46); PT (107) Pearson Chi Square: 14,386 (,002).

Graph 6 Presence of politician ministers by nature of the ministerial portfolio according to the parties of the presidents (1995-2014) (%) 

Once again we find a striking similarity between administrations, with scarce differences between the presidents’ parties. Graph 6 indicates that ministries of a political nature are the space where ministers with careers in elective positions are less appointed. They were recruited mainly for economic and social ministries, and not for portfolios with functions exclusively related to negotiation, governability, and political management. 71% of ministers with a mostly political career, whether in elective or administrative positions, were distributed among ministries of an economic or social nature. This helps us to explain the low level of expertise of politician ministers and signposts the presidents’ preferences to delegate technical functions, rather than solely political functions, to politician ministers. Such were the cases of José Serra and Paulo Bernardo in the Planning Ministry during the Cardoso I and both Lula administrations.

While assessing the degree of specialization of politicians in ministerial cabinets, we also measured the expertise of ministers affiliated with the President’s party and the expertise of ministers affiliated to parties of the government’s allied base. The ministers of the president’s party encompass those affiliated with the PSDB during the Cardoso administrations and with the PT during the Lula and Dilma administrations. All other political ministers with party affiliations were classified as belonging to the allied caucus.

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (46); allied base (7); PT (107); allied base (11).

Graph 7 Level of expertise of politician ministers from the allied caucus and the president’s party per administration (1995-2014) 

The test represented in graph 7 registers a substantial difference in the level of expertise of cabinet members. PSDB and PT ministers tend to have more expertise — average of 0.35 and 0.27, respectively — in their administrations than politician ministers affiliated to other allied parties — average of 0.21 and 0.22 in the expertise index for ministers in the PSDB and PT administrations. Both parties’ administrations seem to have followed (or found themselves forced to follow) the same strategies for ministerial recruitment. More importantly, however, is that the data shows that presidents tend to have different criteria from their allied parties to appoint cabinet members. It is reasonable to presume that the allied base is more concerned with allocating their party’s strong political figures within ministries (even if without professional experience in the field), while the president has greater freedom to select more experienced co-religionists in the ministry’s jurisdiction.

We then analyzed the administrative experience of politician ministers. The goal here was to measure if prior experience in high-level positions, such as ministries and government departments (state and municipal), is a differential for this type of minister in comparison to “technicians”, and to identify the differences between both administrations regarding prior experience within these specific positions.


One of the criteria for classifying ministers as politicians is that they have been appointed to command positions in municipal and/or state secretariats. The following test evaluates how this experience correlates with other career attributes, particularly political attributes. By means of a binary regression, we tested the correlation between an individual’s experience in state or municipal administration with other political practices, such as having been a parliamentarian (councilman, deputy, or senator), mayor, or party leadership before assuming a portfolio in the cabinet of both parties. The correlation between these variables is expected to be high and positive, demonstrating that politicians also tend to have administrative experience, which would thus qualify them to assume ministerial positions.

Table 1 Relationship between administrative experience of all Ministers and other political experiences according to the parties of the presidents (1995-2014) 

Administration B S.E. Wald df Sig.
PSDB Executive experience ,735 ,895 ,673 1 ,412
Executive experience -,698 1,056 ,437 1 ,509
Party experience -,608 ,740 ,677 1 ,411
Constant 2,248 ,426 27,851 1 ,000
PT Executive experience ,414 ,390 1,128 1 ,288
Executive experience ,439 ,446 ,966 1 ,326
Party experience -1,020 ,365 7,794 1 ,005
Constant ,961 ,224 18,482 1 ,000

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (113); PT (214).

Administrative experience is not a differential of the ministerial political elite. The two variables not significant to both parties — parliamentary experience and executive experience — indicate that there is no correlation between an individual having experience in elective positions and having administrative experience. That is, administrative experience is not a differential of the political class. In general, those who without prior occupations in elected positions have, just like politicians, previous experience in top-ranking positions of trust in states and municipalities. The only significant variable was party experience in the PT administrations, albeit with an inverted signal. That is, during the Lula and Dilma administrations, ministers with a history of partisan leadership are less likely to have had a top-level administrative position.

The assumption that politicians recruited for a ministerial cabinet would have more administrative experience in appointment positions proved to be mistaken. The occupation of such positions is also characteristic of ministers with mostly technical careers. Experience in State administration positions tends to be a common attribute to all ministers within the analyzed period. That said, the next step is to identify the most concentrated spaces where we find ministers with the most administrative experience. The goal here is to compare the experience of politician ministers by party (table 2) and by the nature of ministerial portfolios (table 3). The results will indicate whether ministers who held positions appointed in municipal or state secretariats are concentrated in the Cardoso or Lula/Dilma administrations and in what type of ministry (political, economic, or social).

Table 2 Concentration of cases of administrative experience of politician ministers according to the parties of the presidents (1995-2014) (N, %, and adjusted standardized residuals) 

Governing party Administrative experience
No Yes
PSDB N 4 42
% 8,5% 91,5%
Adjust. Res. -3,1 3,1
PT N 34 73
% 31,8% 68,2%
Adjust. Res. 3,1 -3,1

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (46); PT (107) Pearson Chi Square: 9.510; Sig: .002.

The data indicates a concentration of cases of politician ministers having passed through first-tier appointment positions during the Cardoso presidencies. Most of the politicians appointed during the PT administrations (68.2%) also had administrative positions. Significantly, a minority of politicians (only 4) appointed by Cardoso had no experience in government positions.10 The remaining 90 percent of politicians had held some state or municipal office before being recruited to the cabinet. This data is not surprising given that the PSDB had the support of parties and actors of the national political elite, while the electoral success of the Workers’ Party represented, at first, a rupture with established political groups, inserting new actors in the political arena.

Table 3 indicates that there is no concentration of ministers with administrative experience in economic portfolios in any of the administrations, as predicted from our last two tests.

Table 3 Concentration of cases of politician ministers with administrative experience by type of ministry and governing party (1995-2014) (adjusted standardized residuals) 

Governing party Nature of the ministry
Economic Political Social
Administrative experience PSDB No .1 .1 0
Yes -.1 -.1 0
PT No -1.4 -1.8 3.2
Yes 1.4 1.8 -3.2

Source: Observatory of social and political elites of Brazil (<>), UFPR. Number of cases: PSDB (46); PT (107). Pearson Chi-Square: PSDB: ,021 (,989); PT: 10,461 (,005).

The data indicates a similar distribution of politicians with administrative experience among the portfolios, with the exception of social ministries, throughout the three PT administrations, which concentrates cases of ministers with no prior experience in state and municipal secretariats. The data suggests that Lula and Dilma delegated social ministries to politicians with a political career, albeit more related to elective offices and party structure than to top-tier public trust positions.11 As for the two Cardoso administrations, ministers with administrative experience were allocated more homogeneously among the three types of portfolios. In any case, as in the other tests concerning the administrative experience of politician ministers, there are some important differences among the analyzed ministerial cabinets, even though the ministers’ expertise have been very similar during the PSDB and PT administrations.


This article sought to describe the professional credentials of Ministers appointed in the PSDB and PT presidential administrations between 1995 and 2014. The data clarifies some of the political alternatives and party preferences of the presidents (and their allies) in their selection of strategic actors for top-tier positions in the federal government.

Systematizing our findings: 1) while the number of previous positions was very similar between politician-ministers and technical-ministers, the latter presented higher levels of education and expertise for the occupied ministerial portfolio; 2) although administrative experience in appointment positions is one of the criteria for classifying ministers as politicians, it has not proved to be an exclusive attribute of ministers with prior political experience, but a feature common to most recruited ministers; 3) ministers in the PSDB and PT administrations showed no significant differences in prior professional experience or expertise for their respective portfolios.

Our findings suggest that, even with a greater proportion of partisan and less technical politician-ministers (Cavalcante and Palotti, 2016), the level of expertise of Ministers in the PT administrations is very similar to the index presented by ministers in the PSDB administrations. Moreover, while other studies have found no significant differences between ministers of the allied base and government ministers (Inacio, 2013), we did identify more expertise among the PSDB and PT ministers in their respective administrations than in ministers appointed by the allied parties in Congress.

Lastly, our findings regarding expertise in ministerial folders clash with the data on the Argentine case, where Ministers from the economic field tend to present more specific skills and technical knowledge than their colleagues (Gené, 2016). In the Brazilian case, economic portfolios tend to be headed by ministers with a political career and with low specific expertise.

The different ministers’ profiles should not be seen as accidental, but rather as an expression of political interests and priorities. Further debates on the prior trajectories of ministers may provide us with a further understanding as to the workings of Brazil’s Executive branch, especially the presence and role of politicians in cabinets. If differences seem minimal between governments ruled by different parties, the data may indicate that these interests and priorities may be constrained by factors other than the president’s choice, e.g. institutional factors such as the need to build government coalitions.


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28{translated version} note: all quotes in english translated by paulo scarpa.

2We excluded ministers with an intense associative career from our classification of “politicians”. The exceptions were due to almost paradigmatic cases: Orlando Silva, minister of Sports, and Luiz Marinho, minister of Labor, both in the Lula administrations. Silva and Marinho have a very short career outside student and union representation entities, respectively.

3For example, the minister of Agriculture, Waldeck Ornelas, in the Cardoso I and Cardoso II administrations.

4For example, former minister Luiz Sergio Nobrega de Oliveira, who headed the Secretariat for Institutional Relations and the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture during Dilma Rousseff’s first term.

5We constructed a measurement calculation and not a typology for evaluating a specific type of expertise (Bakema and Secker, 1988).

6Missing cases: no information was found for the number of prior positions of four ministers: Alderico Silva (Transport) and Walter Werner Brauer (Aviation), from the first Cardoso administration; Sérgio Gitirana Florêncio Chagasteles and Waldemar Nicolau Canellas Junior, both ministers of the Navy during the second Cardoso administration.

7Paulo Renato, Francisco Dornelles, and Celso Amorim appear more than once for being outliers with more than one ministerial mandate. Amorim, for example, was minister of Foreign Affairs during Lula’s two mandates, as well as Defense minister in the first Dilma administration.

8Missing cases: no information was found for the career time of seven ministers. They are: Alderico Silva (Transport) and Walter Werner Brauer (Aviation) in the first Cardoso administration; Sérgio Gitirana Florêncio Chagasteles and Waldemar Nicolau Canellas Junior, both ministers of the Navy during the second Cardoso administration; Carlos Eduardo Esteves Lima (Chief of Staff) and João Santana (National Integration), ministers during the second Lula administrations; and Paulo Roberto Santos Pinto (Labor), minister in the first Dilma administration.

9Missing case: Alderico Jefferson da Silva Lima, minister of Transport in the second Cardoso administration.

10Such was the case of the minister of Agriculture, Arlindo Porto (previously vice-governor and senator for the PSDB of Minas Gerais), the minister of Sports Carlos Melles (former federal deputy for the PFL of Minas Gerais), Pimenta da Veiga (then national president of the PSDB), and Nelson Jobim (formerly a federal deputy for the Rio Grande do Sul PMDB).

11Aloizio Mercadante (Education), Patrus Ananias (Social Development), Olívio Dutra (Cities), Maria do Rosário (Human Rights), Pepe Vargas and Miguel Rossetto (both in Agrarian Development) would be examples of ministers with careers linked to the PT structure.

1In Brazil, the “deputy minister” (executive secretary of the ministries) tends to perform the function of representing the party (and the priorities) of the president.

Received: January 11, 2017; Accepted: May 03, 2017

Adriano Codato - Professor of political science at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and coordinator of the Observatory of Social and Political Elites of Brazil (<>). He works in the Post-Graduate Program in Political Science and in the Post-Graduate Program in Public Policies at UFPR. E-mail:

Paulo Franz - Master in political science and PhD student at the Post-Graduate Program in Political Science of the Federal University of Paraná. He is also a researcher at the Research Nucleus in Brazilian Political Sociology (Nusp-UFPR) and in the Observatory of Social and Political Elites of Brazil (<>). E-mail:

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