Not him? Jair Bolsonaro gains ground among women

The latest Ibope presidential poll was something of an Ice Bucket Challenge on Workers’ Party politicians and voters. Despite the avalanche of criticism, Jair Bolsonaro has increased his support beyond the margin of error, reaching 31 percent of voting intentions – and widening the gap between him and second-place Fernando Haddad to 10 points.

How to interpret Jair Bolsonaro rise among women voters

In this article, I will attempt to interpret the numbers – without the partisanship and wishful thinking that have become the norm in political commentary in Brazil.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The first possibility is that anti-Workers&#8217; Party voters have rallied around the former Army captain, who has &#8211; better than anyone &#8211; epitomized anti-Lulism, which is, alongside anti-Bolsonarism, the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">biggest political wave</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in the country. No other candidate to the right of the center has shown more strength for a future head-to-head contest with Lula&#8217;s party. His radicalism has worked as an asset rather than a liability.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In that sense, center-right Geraldo Alckmin was Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s best unintentional ally. In the vain hope that he would steal votes from the far-right, Mr. Alckmin made right-wing voters aware that Mr. Bolsonaro was set to lose in a runoff stage contest with Mr. Haddad. Of course, Mr. Alckmin was hoping that voters would pledge their allegiance to him instead. But the message that voters got was very different: anti-Lula voters needed to rally around the strongest name and fast.</span></p> <h2>Mistakes and misperceptions of the left</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people &#8211; particularly women &#8211; took to the streets across Brazil to protest Mr. Bolsonaro. However, as University of São Paulo researchers Márcio Moretto and Pablo Ortellado have </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">demonstrated</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the Women&#8217;s March was a niche event that touched the intellectual and economic elite of the left. At least for now, the gender-based criticism towards Congressman Bolsonaro has not galvanized lower-income and less politicized female voters. Instead, the latest Ibope poll shows that he rose by 6 points among women (thanks to higher-income women from the wealthy Southeast).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Of course, the errors and limitations of the Workers&#8217; Party &#8211; and Mr. Haddad &#8211; collaborated to their negative results. Party chairperson Gleisi Hoffmann and Lula&#8217;s disgraced former Chief of Staff José Dirceu (an avid collector of criminal convictions) have once again ignited a debate about whether or not Mr. Haddad intends on </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">pardoning Lula</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> of his crimes as president. Instead of galvanizing voters over a weekend of massive left-wing protests, the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s candidate had to explain himself and his allies. Having to explain yourself during an election is always negative.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This poll could indicate that Mr. Haddad has reached the ceiling of Lulism without Lula. As the leader can&#8217;t campaign from jail, the left occupies its time preaching to the choir, and not reaching out to centrist voters who might not automatically align with them in a second round. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the last televised debates, his performance was pedestrian. It was natural to assume that, with Mr. Bolsonaro sidelined after a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">September 6 stabbing</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, he would be the focus of all attacks. But his capacity to react was minimal. It is understandable that he is refusing to bash more centrist candidates, such as Ciro Gomes and Marina Silva, or even Mr. Alckmin, as Mr. Haddad will try to lure their support after Sunday&#8217;s first round. But still, he came across as unprepared for the presidential stage.</span></p> <h2>The Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s limitations</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The fact is that Mr. Haddad could have a high floor but a low ceiling. If being &#8220;Lula&#8217;s guy&#8221; is enough to get him to the runoff stage, it will surely not be enough to win in the second round. For that to happen, he will need voters of the center and the right.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Besides, while there is no shortage of reasons for people not to vote for Mr. Bolsonaro, they don&#8217;t seem eager to support Mr. Haddad for any purpose other than preventing a win of the far-right. Millions of voters resent the corrupt practices that were so present in the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s administrations &#8211; a sentiment that might become ever stronger after Federal Judge Sérgio Moro decided to lift the secrecy of plea bargain </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">statements damaging to Lula</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, made by his former Finance Minister.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-9304" src="" alt="How to interpret Jair Bolsonaro rise among women voters" width="1024" height="683" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Without a mea culpa, the Workers&#8217; Party will not be able to reconcile with those voters. A considerable part of the electorate is scared of the prospect of Bolsonaro, but has similar fears of the Workers&#8217; Party. These voters don&#8217;t think that the party will save democracy &#8211; and they won&#8217;t naturally gravitate towards Mr. Haddad, like the left seems to think. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">More than Lulism, Mr. Haddad must represent the values of democratic politics &#8211; which he has yet to do. If he misses the opportunity to attract voters from outside of his comfort zone, he will be doomed.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the final days before Election Day, voters to the left of center may still choose Ciro Gomes to face Mr. Bolsonaro in the runoff stage &#8211; even if that prospect seems far-fetched. Mr. Gomes, however, still believes in his chances, and has not pulled any punches against the Workers&#8217; Party. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the second round, voters who spoil their ballots or don&#8217;t show up to the polls could benefit the far-right, coupled with a strong anti-Workers&#8217; Party mood. Will Mr. Haddad sway these voters? The answer will determine who becomes Brazil&#8217;s next president.

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PowerOct 02, 2018

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BY Carlos Melo

Political scientist and sociologist, professor at São Paulo's Insper Business School. Follow his blog