Even from jail, Lula is Brazil’s kingmaker

. Jun 11, 2018
lula kingmaker Support for Lula remains strong. Photo: PT
lula kingmaker

Support for Lula remains strong. Photo: PT

Datafolha, Brazil’s most reliable polling institute, has published its latest opinion poll ahead of the presidential election. At first glance, it would seem that support for former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is waning. Since September 2017, Lula has lost almost half of his most loyal supporters.

Electoral polls in Brazil usually follow the following structure: first, they ask voters to spontaneously say who would they vote for if the election were today. And only then voters are presented with multiple lists of candidates – each list representing a possible scenario.

The spontaneous part of the survey is very important, as voters who declare an allegiance to one candidate from the top of their heads tend to be less volatile. Lula’s “spontaneous voters” amounted to 18 percent of the electorate in September 2017 and now are only 10 percent. Meanwhile, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro has passed ahead for the first time, with 12 percent.

</span></p> <hr /> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-4947" src="" alt="lula brazil presidential poll bolsonaro" width="1024" height="677" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1180w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, this doesn&#8217;t necessarily mean support for Lula is dropping. It could be that his supporters are coming to terms with the fact Lula is unlikely to be on the ballot, despite the maneuvers pulled by his Workers&#8217; Party. He has been sentenced to over 12 years in prison by multiple courts, which should make him ineligible, barring an unlikely &#8211; but possible &#8211; favorable Supreme Court decision.</span></p> <h3>The Kingmaker</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Just two years ago, the Workers&#8217; Party was in deep trouble. The party had been swept in the 2016 municipal elections, getting three times fewer voters than in 2012. Just months after the elections, the party lost the presidency when Dilma Rousseff was <a href="">impeached</a>. Then, Lula, the party&#8217;s main leader and the embodiment of the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s soul, was jailed.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Strangely, the impeachment and Lula&#8217;s arrest motivated more people to join the Workers&#8217; Party ranks. The average number of voters registering as members of the party </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">rose</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> from 84 to 201 since April. The feeling that the former president was the victim of an injustice has sparked leftists across the country.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That&#8217;s why, even from <a href="">jail</a>, Lula remains ahead in all scenarios in which he is considered a candidate. Thirty percent of the electorate want to give him a third term &#8211; and the same amount is willing to vote for whomever he supports. An additional 17 percent would consider voting for someone vouched for by Lula.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That willingness to follow the recommendation of the country&#8217;s most popular politician has yet to show on polls. Fernando Haddad, the former mayor of São Paulo, and Jaques Wagner, the former governor of Bahia, are two alternatives within the Workers&#8217; Party to replace the jailed former president. Each is polling at mere 1 percent. But there&#8217;s more than meets the eye.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-4946" src="" alt="lula brazil presidential poll bolsonaro" width="1024" height="677" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1180w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <h3>Why Workers&#8217; Party names are polling so badly</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These numbers are reminiscent of 2010. Back then, Lula&#8217;s administration was approved by a record 87 percent of voters &#8211; after eight years of presidency. The then-president chose Dilma Rousseff as his successor, a technocrat voters had never heard of, and politicians didn&#8217;t appreciate. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Early in 2009 &#8211; almost two years before the election &#8211; she was polling at 2 percent. Thanks to Lula&#8217;s intensive campaign on her behalf, Ms. Rousseff overcame her lack of experience &#8211; and charisma &#8211; to beat out the opposition and won two presidential elections. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There have been reports that, prior to his arrest, Lula recorded several videos to be run as campaign spots. Logic suggests that he recorded messages asking for the support of allies, just in case he wouldn&#8217;t be on the ballot. Once the campaign starts and candidates are allowed to run TV and radio ads, the former president&#8217;s image will be used to exhaustion &#8211; and then we could see vote transfer.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Being locked up only marginally hurt Lula&#8217;s image from the electorate&#8217;s perspective. He remains the pivotal aspect of the 2018 presidential election &#8211; even from inside of a cell.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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