Brazil's presidential race: polarization

In recent weeks, center-right presidential hopeful Geraldo Alckmin began asking voters to become more pragmatic when choosing their candidate. He would be, in his opinion, the best option for those who would hate to see four years of the Workers’ Party in government, but who think far-right Jair Bolsonaro is too radical and unprepared. In a way, voters listened to his advice – but not in the way Mr. Alckmin was hoping.

The latest Ibope poll shows that the electorate is increasingly choosing candidates they believe would have the best chance of beating the politicians the most. Those who reject former president Lula and his Workers’ Party – which ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2016 – have dived head first in the extreme-right camp. For these voters, anything goes if it means keeping the center-left party out of power.

</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-8855" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-qC8p1-6-1024x683.png" alt="ibope poll presidential race brazil polarization lula bolsonaro" width="1024" height="683" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-qC8p1-6-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-qC8p1-6-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-qC8p1-6-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-qC8p1-6-610x407.png 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-qC8p1-6.png 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the opposite corner, Fernando Haddad, Lula&#8217;s understudy, has experienced a tremendous rise since the Workers&#8217; Party made him its </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/09/12/lula-brazil-president-race/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">official candidate</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. While most of that growth is thanks to the support his political mentor still enjoys, even from jail, it is fair to assume that voters to the left of center could gravitate towards his name to make an anti-Bolsonaro statement in the first round. Center-left Ciro Gomes and centrist Marina Silva &#8211; who is already out of contention &#8211; should see their candidacies further dehydrate and will finish in the low single digits.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite the highest amount of candidates since the 1989 presidential race, the presidential election has become a two-horse race much sooner than anticipated.</span></p> <h2>How pragmatic voters behave</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Generally in Brazil, the &#8220;anti&#8221; phase of the presidential race, that is, when voters choose their candidate based on who they don&#8217;t want to win, comes only during the runoff stage, when only two candidates are left. But, as the two most polarizing personalities in Brazilian politics (Jair Bolsonaro and Lula) have taken center stage, this moment has come earlier in 2018.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-8856" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-OMhsx-1024x683.png" alt="ibope poll presidential race brazil polarization lula bolsonaro" width="1024" height="683" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-OMhsx-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-OMhsx-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-OMhsx-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-OMhsx-610x407.png 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/export-OMhsx.png 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One month ago, before the Workers&#8217; Party announcement that Mr. Haddad would replace Lula in the presidential ticket, 24 percent of the electorate was picking either the Workers&#8217; Party or the far-right. Now, that rate has doubled &#8211; and will continue to grow, as more left-leaning voters become aware of who &#8220;Lula&#8217;s guy&#8221; is.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But if Mr. Haddad&#8217;s electoral stock rises as people associate him with Lula, so do his rejection rates &#8211; which jumped from 16 percent in August to 29 percent now, according to Ibope. And that explains why Mr. Bolsonaro has risen from 20 percent a month ago to the 28-percent mark. Those who hate Lula and his party &#8211; and this is a sizeable bunch &#8211; are gravitating towards the extreme.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This was evident in the last second-round projections. While it is far too soon to consider them valuable right now, they do highlight some trends of voter behavior. Up until now, Mr. Bolsonaro was getting whipped in a head to head contest simulation with any other candidate &#8211; being genuinely competitive only against the Workers&#8217; Party. Not anymore. As voters identify Mr. Bolsonaro as the only possible obstacle between Mr. Haddad and the presidency, they flock around the former Army captain.</span></p> <h2>Dangerous raise of tone</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro has, time and time again, challenged the very validity of Brazil&#8217;s voting system (without offering any evidence to back up his claims) and has increased his violent tone in the face of a potential Workers&#8217; Party win. The stabbing he suffered on September 6 didn&#8217;t make him the slightest bit less aggressive. In a recent video published on social media, he sent a message to the barracks: &#8220;My friends of the Armed Forces, who will be your Minister of Defense?&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A few days earlier, the Army Commander, General Eduardo Villas Bôas, also said that the chosen president could have his legitimacy called into question.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a country where the military has a history of breaking away with democracy, those words have set off an alarm for many analysts. Political scientist Celso Rocha de Barros, who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Oxford, </span><a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/colunas/celso-rocha-de-barros/2018/09/os-bolsonaristas-querem-dar-um-golpe.shtml"><span style="font-weight: 400;">wrote</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> on Monday that &#8220;Bolsonaro backers plan to orchestrate a coup. A real coup, not the soft-core [anti-democratic] stuff we see nowadays.&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Brazil&#8217;s institutions are not sufficiently strong to prevent authoritarian actions,&#8221; <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast-brazil/2018/09/19/podcast-brazilian-democracy/">sums up</a> Filipe Campante, a Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University.

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.