by Alex Hochuli
Monday, 3
October 2022
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Brazil’s biggest losers: the pollsters

Predictions of a Lula rout have not come true
by Alex Hochuli
A Lula supporter waits for the results of Brazil’s election. Credit: Getty

If Lula supporters began the night with a confidence that their candidate could kill this election dead in the first round, they finished it daunted by the task now facing them. Lula won 48.4% of the vote against Bolsonaro’s 43.2%. In a normal election, a 5-point gap would be a solid lead to take into a second round (to be held on 30 October). But this has never been a normal election.

With Bolsonaro repeatedly threatening not to recognise the results should he lose, this became a plebiscite on democracy itself. That made it all the more important that the result be definitive, to avoid any violent litigation of the second-round results, which will inevitably be tighter. That hope is now gone. The next month will be brutal, with fears of intimidation and political violence — and the possibility of an attempted coup at the end of it.

The second abnormality is that pre-election polls were wrong. Make no mistake, the result was a shock; the Right was underestimated. In the final polls published before election day, Lula had 50-51% while Bolsonaro was at 36%-37% — and this was according to the two most respected institutes.

In the biggest electoral college of the country, São Paulo state, which accounts for around 20% of the electorate, polls had Lula winning by 9 points. He lost by 7 points. Down-ballot, Bolsonaro’s candidate won the senatorial race against a centrist former governor, while the president’s ally and former minister came in first in the governor’s race, upending the polls. There were similar stories across the country.

Why is this happening? Bolsonaro has been hostile to polling agencies, threatening to shut them down should he be re-elected. Did those intending to vote for him take a similar stance and refuse to speak to interviewers? Voting is mandatory but abstention still hit 20.9%, the highest in 24 years, so it is possible that pollsters misjudged who would actually vote. Alternatively, with the decennial census two years late, we still don’t have a good grasp on the composition of the country — particularly of the number of evangelicals who have become the key voter bloc on the Right.

In any case, Bolsonaro supporters certainly didn’t believe the polls, with many voicing disappointment in Telegram groups, despite overturning expectations. The president’s post-election press conference was relatively downbeat as well.

Maybe they shouldn’t be. The Rightist wave, rather than having abated, appears to have deepened. Bolsonarismo is here to stay.

For now, we know that if Lula wins as he is still expected to, he will have to confront an extremely hostile Congress and possibly the threat of impeachment from day one. One consolation is that no one other than Lula could have got themselves into this situation: Bolsonaro would have smashed anyone else.

But that is cold comfort: Brazil’s democrats, progressives and radicals are left relying on a 76-year-old former president who uniquely left office with 80% approval ratings. Since re-democratisation in the 80s, Brazil’s congress has been extremely fragmented, with most parties serving as vehicles for pork-spending. Lula’s PT party was one of the few ideological forces, along with the centre-Right PSDB. The latter has been demolished. Instead, Brazil now has a coherent, organised and powerful far-Right, in the form of the president’s PL — the largest in Congress.

In the final presidential debate of the first round, held last Thursday night, Lula said, “what I want to do is care for people.” It may be that in a society deeply distrustful of institutions and politicians, this sort of paternalism may simply not work anymore. Lula may be the last to pull it off.

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Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 month ago

As an American expat living as a permanent resident in Brazil for the last 5 years (encompassing the 2018 election when Lula was in jail for corruption and Bolsonaro handily defeated the Lula wannabe candidate), I liked this article and can informally confirm the author’s presentation and conclusions.

There is clearly a left-wing bias in the major media here (Bolsonaro-bashing by the mainstream press reminds me of home:) My (brasileira) wife voted for Lula, completely avoiding the fact that Lula is a convicted criminal, as a kind of anti-Bolsonaro vote (she finds him personally loathsome – which also reminds me of home).

I asked her on Sunday (the day the vote) if she thought there might be a left-wing bias in the polling (then predicting as the author noted, that Lula would win big). Kind of like a “Shy Trump” voter phenomenon. She thought that it can’t be, since Bolsonaro voters (especially here in the Southern region of Brazil) are so bold about their support (including most of my in-laws).

Things (COVID notwithstanding) are better economically than under Lula/Dilma – Bolsonaro’s economic minister has a PhD from the University of Chicago and was making enormous strides pre-civid – Brazil’s GDP is rising this year over 2%.

Lula, conversely, was convicted of corruption (using State funds to build a lavish personal residence), which was confirmed by the Supreme Court – however, a Member of the Court later overturned the conviction based on technical jurisdiction matters, not on the facts, at which time the statute of limitations had run. However, the facts were clearly established.

So we can look forward to another month of lively campaigning – buses and cars streaming by with loud speakers blaring.

Jazmine Kiana
Jazmine Kiana
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

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Last edited 1 month ago by Jazmine Kiana
Stuart Rose
Stuart Rose
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

Interesting. Thanks for you perspective, partly via the perspectives of your wife.
On a non-political Brazilian note, this past Thursday I attended Milton Nascimento’s farewell concert in New York(actually, a second concert was added this coming week). Town Hall was full of Brazilians as well as Americans like me who love his music. It was a joyful and poignant event since he is ending is public career and is, at 80, physically hobbled— he needed to have two men help him walk, very slowly, onto the stage. Still, his voice was strong.
The pride and love of the Brazilians was very moving. There was one uncomfortable moment for me. Before the concert, a woman rushed into the orchestra seating section waving a huge banner bearing Lula’s image. Well, it’s impossible to know, but it seemed that while many people cheered, others did not. What a shame that shabby politics and silly hero worship of politicians disrupted in a moment in which the most joyous and generous spirit of Brazil triumphed.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 month ago

I would recommend this interview with Glenn Greenwald on the subject.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4VJGNNSQnw

Glyn R
Glyn R
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

That link is to something entirely different.

Mikail Skabello
Mikail Skabello
1 month ago

You clearly don’t understand the Brazilian people. The drive is not pro-Bolsonaro. It’s Against Lula. People are voting for Bolsonaro because they understand that Lula is the personification of corruption and economic disaster.

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett
1 month ago

If Bolsonaro gets back, the Amazon is finished. Perhaps that is a narrow focus, but it is what I am thinking about right now.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

Sort of like if Trump was elected the world would end?

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

He tried to overturn US democracy with a coup, and is still backing that position. He didn’t even do this out of political conviction, just as an expression of his NPD….but no, his election did not cause the World to end – Yay!

Glyn R
Glyn R
1 month ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Did he try to overthrow democracy with a coup?

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 month ago
Reply to  Glyn R

Yes. It is absolutely clear that he tried to overturn an election result – he has admitted it, the intention, the before and after planning, right up to this very day he continues the lie. The first time any President has interfered with the peaceful transfer of power in the US. Extraordinary. Unfortunately he was unable to convince any branch of government, executive, justice, security of his position, not for lack of trying. He was, however, able to convince a good number of numpties, several of whom are now in jail. Interesting – there is an almost 100% correlation between working for Trump and later being in one of two positions: in jail; or finding him to be a unstable narcissist.