Explaining Brazil #213: Do presidential debates still matter?

Do debates still provide voters with a chance to see the quote-unquote real candidates behind the scripted sound bites and commercials? Or are they just a formality made for political wonks that does very little to change the political needle?

Presidential debates are among the key campaigning rituals that have withstood the test of time. Last Sunday, Brazil saw six candidates take the stage for the first debate of the 2022 election cycle — just over a month before Brazilians hit the polls. 

All eyes were naturally on the two frontrunners, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro. Not only because they are the only ones with a realistic shot at winning it all, but also because they have become the faces of political polarization in Brazil.

The level of animosity is such that both requested the debate’s organizers to change the candidates’ positioning, decided by a draw, which had put Lula and Bolsonaro side by side. Instead, centrist candidate Simone Tebet acted as a buffer between the two.

The much-anticipated confrontation ended up being underwhelming. But besides that, have we really learned anything from Sunday’s debate?

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To speak on presidential debates we have invited:

  • Beatriz Rey is a senior researcher at the Center for Studies on the Brazilian Congress at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Syracuse University and an M.A. in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This episode used music from Uppbeat. License codes: 5UXPEQ2PWQVJABS4, QCGJMVIKPZHOFATL.

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