By João Schlüter, a Brazilian political analyst
NoSeMancha’s coverage of the Brazilian Presidential Election continues, as promised in the previous post, with a look at available polling data.
Before we get into the actual data though, a couple of caveats:
This is still early in the game.
Election seasons in Brazil are short, especially compared to the insanely long campaigns in the US. Officially the campaign starts in July (though there is a lot of “pre-campaigning going on already”).
This matters a lot, because during the official campaign all candidates get free TV time fro campaign spots, which could be an important factor in influencing people’s minds. Apart from political junkies like yours truly, most Brazilians are focused on anything but the campaign right now (there’s a World Cup coming up after all).
Given the limited attention given to the election so far, it is unsurprising that large parts of the electorate are not yet familiar with the challengers. 58 percent know Aécio Neves only from hearsay or not at all, for Campos the figure is even higher at 75 percent.
Unsurprisingly, the incumbent is much better know, the majority (52 percent) say they know her well, with only 1 percent unfamiliar (only hearsay or not at all). This “familiarity gap” is bound to tighten as the campaign heats up, which is likely to benefit the challengers.
Brazil is different.
When it comes to elections, it is noteworthy that Brazil is among the small number of democracies where voting is mandatory. This matters for polling because it means that turnout and the make-up of the electorate are not a major issues.
It also means that campaigns don’t need to make an effort to push low motivation voters to go vote, rather it is important that these voters remember a candidate’s name and number when they enter the booth. Brazilian candidates have come up with creative and sometimes bizarre ways to achieve that.
Further, because of the mandatory vote, voting in blank (not endorsing any candidate) or making the ballot invalid are fairly common options for those who can’t bring themselves to endorse any candidate.
[Side note: Technically, only citizens between the ages of 18 to 70 are required to vote, for those between 16 and 18 as well as seniors over 70, voting is voluntary. Given the demographics of Brazil however, those groups are not as significant in Brazil as in other countries]
Quality of polling
Questioning the quality of polling at this stage may be futile as the “true value”, the election result if the election were held now, will never be known. Nevertheless, there’s a few issues worth noticing:
Historically, polls have tended to underestimate the PT vote. This could be for two reasons. First, the PT, through its linkages with labor unions has had a superior organization, which helped them get their votes in.
Second, since the polling firms are owned by media companies that are generally seen as anti-PT, some think there is a deliberate anti-PT bias in the polls.
Nevertheless, in the 2010 election, there was no noticeable anti-PT bias as Dilma’s result was actually below that of the polls close to election day (47 versus 49 percent). What the polls missed in 2010 was the strong performance of Marina Silva whose vote was close to double that estimated in the polls (19 percent rather than 12).
For now this observer will take the polls at face value, knowing that they only provide a blurry snapshot of opinions at any point in time. The polling I quote here is done by Datafolha, for the simple reason that they have been releasing polls more frequently than other outlets. As we get more polls come in we will look at other providers as well.
The polls are getting closer (but they are still not very close)
So let’s see where the polls are standing: Until about a year ago, the election looked like a sure win for Dilma as her personal popularity was high and she polled well above 50 percent.
A first turn came during the protests in June 2013. While not target specifically at her or her government, they led to a dramatic drop in her approval rating and her poll number dipped as low as 33 percent. They didn’t however strengthen any of her competitors (who were only potential candidates at the time).
In the second half of 2013 Dilma’s numbers recovered quite a bit, recording 44 percent in November 2013 as well as February 2014.
Hence, until recently, the poll numbers of all challengers combined were frequently below the voting intentions for Dilma and all opposition candidates individually trailed the intention of voting blank or invalid. Taking into account only valid votes, Dilma’s numbers until recently were sufficient to avoid a runoff.
Not anymore: In the most recent Datafolha poll of early May, Dilma dropped to 37 percent and her challengers, especially Aécio began catching up. The Tucano received 20 percent, with Campos at 11 and other candidates combining 7 percent. This result means that Dilma would be forced narrowly (well within the margin of error) into a run-off against Aécio.
The question for now is whether or not Dilma can avoid a runoff
Given that both Aécio and Campos are positioning themselves to the right (or center) of Dilma, they are competing for the same voters and will have a hard time coming in ahead of her in the first round.
The interesting question then is, if and who of them could make it to a second round. In a second round, one can expect most of the opposition vote to go to the remaining challenger, bringing him closer to the incumbent.
What happens in a second round?
Give how close Dilma is to an absolute majority of the valid vote in the first round, it is unsurprising that current polling points to an easy win for the President in the second round. She currently polls at 47 to 36 percent against Aécio and 49 to 32 percent against Campos.
One might assume that in a possible second round opposition voters will get behind whoever is the challenger to Dilma, but this might not be a given. Especially Campos voters (and Marina fans voting for the Campos Marina ticket) might be hesitant to vote for the PSDB candidate who is seen as to the right of their ticket.
Even if they don’t vote for Dilma, they could opt for voting null or blank, reducing the valid vote total. The same is true of the supporters of minor candidates who total 7 percent first round according to the May datafolha poll.
So remember, this is still pre-game. But the numbers indicate that it well be an interesting campaign which might well go into overtime – with a second round. So stay tuned, Brazilection 2014 continues on SeMancha.com!
João Schlüter is a Brazilian political analyst, specializing on electoral politics in the U.S., Brazil and other Latin American countries This is the first in a series of contributions covering the 2014 presidential election in Brazil. João studied political science and international relations at Univesidade Federal Fluminense in Niterói, Brazil.