The People Spoke, or Did They? TIME Readers’ Person of the Year


We know who the TIME editors picked for Person of the Year, but what about the readers?




As usual, the TIME Person of the Year awards received much interest, and in our last column we commented on the positive psychiatric implications of the choices. What got much less attention is the annual TIME 2021 Person of the Year Reader poll, which was released a week prior.1 There were 9 million votes by readers for their poll, compared to a few handfuls by the TIME’s editors for the other. Although it always gets less media attention, this year seemed particularly muted. Maybe there is a reason why.

So, if you did not hear about it, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro won with almost a quarter of the vote. He seems to be a controversial leader for his handling of the Brazilian economy and downplaying the pandemic. However, in Brazil over 600,000 have died out of a population of over 213 million, a higher percentage than the over 800,000 out of over 332 million in the USA.

In the Reader poll, President Trump came in second at about 10%, then frontline workers third, and in fourth place, I was pleased to see, was imprisoned Russian lawyer and activist Alexei Navalny with about 6% of the vote.

Clearly, there is a major difference between the voting readers and the editors. Neither Bolsonaro nor Navalry were mentioned in the editors voting.

What might be the explanation? Is it another example of the people thinking differently than the experts? If so, why?

The Washington Post, in a December 18th article, asked “How did Bolsonaro Win Time’s Magazine Person of the Year Reader poll?”2 Their answer? Thank Telegram. In shades of our recent Presidential elections, Brazil’s far right apparently helped Bolsonaro win by using, a sort of “supercharged WhatsApp,” which is in over 50% of Brazilian phones. Such loading of the voting can be yet another example of cultish control of the internet that can be used to adversely influence elections, political leadership, and our minds.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.


1. TIME staff. Here’s who won TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year Reader poll. TIME. December 7, 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021.

2. McCoy T, Sá Pessoa G. How did Bolsonaro win TIME magazine’s Person of the Year Reader poll? Thank Telegram. The Washington Post. December 18, 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021.

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