This October 2nd, Brazilian voters will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president. However, the presidential race shows a fragmented country that has been split by the institutional political crisis that began in 2013 and by an increase in political violence, which has given rise to a scenario of tension, fear, and uncertainty about the direction that Brazil will take in the next four years.
The political landscape in Brazil shows a polarized election scenario between far-right candidate and current president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the center-left coalition candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who both have solid chances to win the presidential election this Sunday. Both Lula and Bolsonaro are well known to Brazilian voters: they have high percentages of loyal voters and at the same time high rejection rates. Polarization has intensified with the anti-PT and anti-bolsonarista campaigns, based on discourses of a return to a democratic society and social welfare, or the continuation of an authoritarian and inefficient populist government.
In this environment, a few days before the elections, surveys carried out by public opinion institutes such as Datafolha and IPEC show that former president Lula has 47% of voting intentions. In contrast, the current incumbent candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has 33% of the votes.
These statistics have not changed significantly since the beginning of the election campaign. However, in this final stretch, there could be a few variations caused by the fervent drive among Lula’s voters to maximize the useful vote, i.e., convert the votes of the candidates Ciro Gomes and Simone Tebet’s into votes for the leader of the Workers’ Party (PT), and thus decide the election in the first round. If that were to happen, there would not be a second round to the presidential election.
Although Bolsonaro has 33% of the vote’s intention, the latest IPEC data shows an elevated rejection rate (51%) for his government. Bolsonaro’s rejection could be attributed to his authoritarian behavior, violent speeches, and negligible action in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 680,000 lives in Brazil. Another aspect widely explored by the opposition was the inefficiency of the current government in dealing with the economic crisis, leading to a reduction in the purchasing power of Brazilians and an increase in the percentage of inhabitants who are in a situation of food insecurity.
Nevertheless, Bolsonaro is trying to reduce rejection among the female electorate to increase the score in the presidential race. His strategy is based on making his wife an intermediary between him and evangelical voters, trying to convince them that he is "God’s chosen one," meant to save Brazil and help women, and indicating that Bolsonaro was "the president that passed the most laws for the protection of women in history."
In turn, Lula has undertaken strategies to close ranks with former political rivals, bringing in Geraldo Alckmin (PSB) as his vice president. At the same time, the former president has reminded the electorate that his cause is against inequality and hunger in the country, recalling the strengths of his terms as president, such as economic growth and the possibility of social advancement. Other messages promoted by Lula’s campaign are the return of Brazil’s international prestige and a policy of conciliation among the Brazilian electorate that aims to to reduce polarization and affirm that "politics is not a place for hatred."
Meanwhile, candidates Simone Tebet and Ciro Gomes have been fighting for their campaigns not to be swallowed up by the useful vote. Ciro has opted for an anti-PT strategy, arguing that Lula is from the same corrupt lineage as Bolsonaro. In contrast, Tebet has used the presidential debates to confront her political opponents, pointing out that the other candidates, apart from exchanging accusations, do not present concrete political proposals for the country’s development.
The election campaign has brought to light a worrying phenomenon for the prospect of peaceful elections this Sunday – political violence. Data from the Observatory of Political and Electoral Violence of the University of Rio de Janeiro indicate that, in these last three years, political violence has increased by 334%. Although it is not an exclusive phenomenon of Bolsonaro’s government, it is striking that indices of political violence have assumed significant proportions since the beginning of his mandate in 2019.
In the mind of Bolsonaro voters, his anti-system and anti-democratic speeches proclaim hatred against anyone that questions Bolsonaro’s authoritarian policies, as well as exalt the return of the military dictatorship and the practice of verbal and physical violence against militants, politicians, and activist parties from the left and center-left sectors.
This scenario has made the debates aggressive, with real possibilities for verbal and physical aggression—that modifies interpersonal relationships, leading to fierce and aggressive confrontation. Surveys carried out by Datafolha show that by mid-September, 67% of respondents were afraid of being physically attacked because of their political choices. This polarization and political violence have generated a climate of insecurity and fear, possibly reducing voter turnout in their voting districts.
Finally, elections are considered the maximum expression of democracy. Therefore, in this final stretch of the election, it is up to candidates not only to create strategies that allow them to acquire votes for victory but also to adopt a strong tone against political violence, thus guaranteeing the security of their voters and the democratic nature of the presidential race.