Brazilection 2014: A tragic game changer

NoSeMancha’s Brazilian election analyst João Schlüter on the consequences of the death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos who was killed in an airplane crash on August 13.  

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A Game Changer has occurred, a sad one and one I didn’t have on my list back in May. Presidential Candidate Eduardo Campos of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) was killed yesterday (August 13) when his private plane crashed during bad weather in the city of Santos (São Paulo State).

While the death of Campos and 6 other people on the plane is a tragedy for Brazil and especially for their families, the political contest he was involved in will surely continue (after 3 days of national mourning).

The scene of the tragedy

The scene of the tragedy

What’s going to happen now? How will the tragedy affect the election?

 The short answer is we don’t know. Campos was unlikely to win the presidency as he was polling at below 10 percent (though arguably he had been gathering steam as he performed well in a nationally televised interview the night before his death). With him out of the race, there are now two plausible but very different scenarios:

Scenario 1: The absence of Eduardo Campos (without a high profile replacement) should favor Dilma

Eduardo Campos, leader of the (moderately) leftist PSB and a former Minister under President Lula (PT) was in many ways closer to Dilma than to Aécio Neves, the other opposition candidate. Therefore if his voters were to look for a new home, many might come back to the PT-led coalition, from which Campos broke in 2013.   Of course others might remain stern in their opposition to Dilma, which Campos had criticized vehemently in recent months, and go for Aécio instead. The key however is that Dilma still has a sizable lead, so according to recent polling Dilma only needs to pick up a few percentage points to win it all in the first round.

Taking a close look at the potential Campos voters, it seems plausible that Dilma would pick up at least some of them. Campos’ support was strongest in the Northeast, due to his name recognition and popularity as governor of Pernambuco. Here, his support reached 12 percent (compared to 8 percent nationally) and surpassed Aécio’s. Again, it is conceivable that a majority of those 12 percent opt for the Tucano in October but if Dilma were to gain, say a third of it, it would still bring her much closer to a first round win.

Campos running second Northeast (Source: Datafolha)

Campos running second Northeast (Source: Datafolha)

Looking at other demographics, Campos was somewhere in the middle between Aécio and Dilma drawing sympathy from all social classes. While Dilma does best among poor Brazilians (42 percent in the lowest income group vs. 28 in highest) and Aécio has greater support in higher income groups (14 vs 38 percent, lowest to highest) Campos’ polled fairly even among income groups (7 to 11 percent, all according to latest Datafolha poll).

It seems therefore quite plausible that a significant share of the Campos’ vote (though not necessarily a majority) would go to Dilma, who has greater appeal particularly to lower income North-Eastern voters than the alleged playboy Aécio of the (allegedly) elitist PSDB. Given the head start Dilma has in the polls, even a modest inflow of Campos voters could put her over the top.

Scenario 2: Marina Silva taking over for Campos could mean trouble for the incumbent as well as the main challenger.

The Campos campaign, while struck by tragedy, is in the fortunate position to have another candidate on its ticket who, a few months ago, actually enjoyed greater popular support than the deceased candidate himself. This candidate of course is Marina Silva, who as Green Party (PV) candidate in 2010 placed a strong third winning 19 percent of the vote.

Technically, there is nothing preventing the PSB-led coalition from naming Marina (or anybody else for that matter) as a replacement candidate. They have 10 days to do so and the obvious choice is the vice-presidential candidate. The brother of the deceased, Antonio Campos, already announced his support for the environmentalist from Acre.

He would want her to take over - says his brother

He would want her to take over – says his brother

How would a Marina Silva candidacy affect the race?

This is a tough one to figure out, so don’t trust anyone who says they know for sure. First of all we need to remember that the Campos-Marina partnership was a curious alliance to begin with as their respective political bases are very different.

Without going into too much detail, Campos is a life-long politician from a prominent family, who has steered his party from classic socialism to a business friendly, developmentlist course. Marina had an unlikely entry into politics as a dirt-poor rubber tapper, learning to read and write at age 16. She started as an environmental activist and became a Senator and minister under Lula, until breaking with the PT leadership, principally about their support for develomentalism (such as the Belo Monte hydropower project) and disregard for environmental concerns. Today she embodies a curies combination of environmentalism, orthodox economics and social conservatism (she is an evangelical).

Given all these differences, it is unclear if Campos-voters would readily switch to a Marina for president ticket. The PSB establishment might have reservations against throwing their support behind a candidate who just joined the party last year and as already switched party allegiance several times (from PT to PV to Rede to PSB).

It is also unclear how much of her 2010 coalition Marina could bring back. Her reputation has suffered somewhat since then after her break-up with the Green Party, the surprise endorsement of Campos and controversial statements on social issues.

A Marina Silva candidacy could greatly shake up the campaign

It is my sense that many 2010 Marina voters have remained on the fence so far this year. They are typically found among the young, better educated, urban, left-leaning types, who don’t like any of the established parties. If we assume that many of them are currently in the undecided or blank voting camp, a resurgence of the Marina vote would be bad for Dilma as it diminishes her share of the valid vote (by widening said vote).

Marina could also draw evangelical support from the minor candidates which would be neutral for Dilma, but negative for Aécio, who has been solid in second place in recent polls. If Marina could reach a level of support similar to that of 2010 or the polls conducted until April, she would be a credible contender for that spot. This means that Aécio has as much to lose from a Marina entry as does Dilma!

All in all, Marina coming in should make for a more competitive first round which means Dilma is unlikely to avoid a runoff but Aécio is no longer guaranteed to be the runoff contender.

The campaign has gotten a very sad tone this week, but it remains interesting.

João Schlüter is a Brazilian political analyst, specializing on electoral politics in the U.S., Brazil and other Latin American countries. This piece is part of 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. 

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