On October 2nd, Brazil held federal elections to determine its next president. These elections also chose the members of the Chamber of Deputies (statewide and national), a third of seats in the Senate, and the governors of 26 states and the Federal District.
Public opinion polls indicated that the presidency could well be decided in the first round. Days before the elections, polls showed the Workers’ Party candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with a 12-point lead over the Liberal Party candidate and current president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro. However, the results told a far different story than that of the last three months of the campaign. While the percentage of votes for Lula was within the margin of error, the Bolsonaro vote was much higher than expected, and the first round of voting ended with only a 4-point differential between the two candidates.
In addition to the discrepancy between the polls and the presidential election results, some results at the state level differed from those predicted by research institutes, leading to a series of questions and harsh criticism from some sectors of society about the credibility of those institutes.
It is important to note that these institutes seek to track and present the electorate’s political preferences at any given moment. By examining the results over a period of months, one can observe the trends and progress of the candidates. These institutes do not seek to predict the results, but rather to gather and present the possible choices based on the poll respondents’ answers.
The data presented by the research institutes were not completely wrong, as the votes in favor of Lula were very close to the latest poll numbers, giving him the most votes in a first round ever. However, the election results raise the question of why the polls were not able to capture the voters’ intentions more accurately with regard to Bolsonaro.
One of the hypotheses is that some respondents, for whatever reason, were unwilling to tell the truth about their voting intentions. This so-called "shy vote" would be more likely to occur amongst Bolsonaro voters due to polarization and elevated indicators of political violence. Another hypothesis is that the polling samples selected no longer accurately represent Brazilian society because they are based on the population census of 2010. Yet another hypothesis is the strength of fake news campaigns streamed by evangelical churches loyal to Bolsonaro’s government and social media warning about the risk of elections being decided in the first round. These factors may have contributed to the increased turnout for Bolsonaro in the final stretch that was not captured by the polls.
The first-round results in the presidential and legislative elections, whether national or statewide, allow the current president to continue competing for votes in the second round. Regardless, the results guarantee Bolsonaro a majority in the National Congress, and in an eventual reelection he would be able to govern without much opposition. Both campaigns are now focused on three factors: courting important allies to sway more voters to their side, emphasizing the high points of their time in office, and spreading attacks and fake news. However, the campaigns have shied away from discussing effective proposals to solve the most concerning and pressing issues in the country, such as the economy, health, education, and food insecurity.
Bolsonaro is focused on a campaign of intense attacks against his opponent, pointing out that Lula was never exonerated in the Lava Jato prosecution and emphasizing that the people cannot elect such a corrupt politician. Furthermore, the current president has gained the support of strategic parties like the Progressistas and the Republicans, and other possible allies include the governors of the southern and southeastern states of the country. Yet another aspect of Bolsonaro’s campaign involves a soft approach to themes that were an issue during the first round of the campaign, advertising how his government has made laws beneficial to women and poor families and had the right policies in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro maintains the opinion that the Armed Forces should be a part of the electoral process by attesting the safety and validity of electronic ballot results.
By contrast, Lula follows an approach focused on the importance of maintaining the country’s democracy, while making it grow and restoring its respect in the international community, and making important alliances, especially with former candidates Simone Tebet and Ciro Gomes and former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who also point to Lula as the best option to rescue the country from growing authoritarianism and corruption. At the same time, Lula is defending himself against attacks by Bolsonaro and his supporters by comparing his own time in office with that of his political opponent, noting that, as president, he created many social inclusion policies, such as establishing universities outside the major centers, approving racial quotas, strengthening family farming and the economy, creating a boom in the housing market, and taking Brazil off the hunger map.
In this final stretch, we have a closer and more tense race, with every vote of extreme importance. That said, this election may favor the candidate who can present proposals to rebuild the country’s economy and its confidence in public institutions and to facilitate union and harmony in a country polarized by political, cultural, social, and ideological differences.