What started as a small group of people complaining about public transportation in Brazil became a countrywide shout last year, where anyone could march against anything. Parties are lame? Check. Politicians are corrupt? Check. More government intervention? Less government intervention in the economy? Check. Check. For several weeks, millions of people in Brazil rallied in an anti-systemic parade that scared elected officials across the country. They did not agree on all causes, but they surely agreed on one: in general, they were not satisfied.
Within this diffuse array of issues during the demonstrations, one that held prominence was the World Cup, happening a year ahead. In a country already full of challenges, it did not seem quite right to the majority of people that Brazil should spend money and time with the FIFA World Cup. The opportunity cost of hosting the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world was up to debate, and President Rousseff’s approval rate was paying the price.
One year later, with Rousseff’s falling rates, an international economic crisis and a historical (and brutal) loss against Germany during the World Cup, the presidential election is largely up for grabs. Nonetheless, since a Constitutional amendment allowing reelection was approved in 1997, both Brazilian presidents have attempted to stay in office for a second term and have succeeded.
After the World Cup, the polls started pouring in with three main candidates in the Brazilian multi-party democracy having a chance. Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party), stabilized around 48% of the electorate since early June, down from the 63% voting intention she had in February. Her main opponent, Aecio Neves (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), has hovered around 28% since April. In third place, Eduardo Campos (Brazilian Socialist Party), has ranged from 10 to 16% for the whole time-series. An observation is important here: don’t mind the parties names, they don’t mean much in Brazil.
Up until mid-August, the polls were not reflecting all the novelties around the election. But that changed fast as a sudden and unexpected event woke up the country. The plane that carried the third place Eduardo Campos crashed in a residential area in Santos, killing all 7 people aboard. After a marathon of press time dedicated to the accident, the funeral, and the burial itself, Campos’ vice presidential candidate, Marina Silva, was slingshotted into the role of presidential candidate.
The first poll after the accident, portraying Marina in her new-found presidential candidate position, was canvassed even before the burial. Not even a candidate a week before, she now had 21% of the votes and thus holding second place. Then, for a little more than three weeks, she saw steady growth. Suddenly, the incumbent Dilma Rousseff was facing the possible outcome of falling to second place. Attacks began (or blunt criticisms, as campaign managers prefer to call them) from all sides, as each side tried to achieve their own excluding goals. It is a zero-sum game, after all.
But the trends changed again after the tie. The most recent poll shows Marina 16 points behind Dilma. The voting starts and ends October 5th, next Sunday, when around 81% of the 142 million eligible voters are expected to show up. It seems that the general public, who was not happy with the status quo (and, by definition, no one represents the status quo with greater strength than a current elected official), found a good deal of hope with Marina’s assurgency. But after a while, voters have realized that she is not an outsider. In this modern tragedy, to quote Shakespeare, voters are preferring to bear those ills they have, than to fly to others that they know not of. The good thing is that since tentative results are usually released on the same night, we won’t need to hold our breaths much longer to see which two candidates are going to the second round.
* I would like to thank Brandon Ward and Greg Harris (Shorenstein Center/Harvard Kennedy School), and Rafael Leon (University of Georgia) for the feedback and suggestions. The problems that remain on the piece are my responsibility alone.