Brazil: Conservative Frontrunner Gaining Support from Socialist Voter Base

Poll surge for right-winger spurs Brazil markets
AFP DANIEL RAMALHO
FRANCES MARTEL

Brazil’s conservative presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro appears to be gaining support from voters typically considered loyal to the socialist Workers’ Party (PT) and could now feasibly win enough votes to prevent a second round run-off, polls this week showed.

Polls by the two major firms in Brazil, Datafolha and Ibope, show a significant increase in the number of likely voters planning to vote for Bolsonaro, and notable increases in the number of women and lower-income voters who say they are inclined to vote for the Social Liberal Party (PSL) candidate. Mounting support has reportedly triggered concern within the PT and calls from within to begin targeting Bolsonaro with lines of attack the party was hoping to save for the run-off election.

Brazilians go to the polls on October 7.

The latest Ibope poll, released Tuesday, shows Bolsonaro with a 31-percent lead over all other candidates. PT candidate Fernando Haddad, who was forced to step in last month after ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva finally accepted that his 12-year prison sentence made his candidacy impossible, is in second place with 21 percent. The poll notably found that Bolsonaro gained six percentage points in support from women voters over the past week, bringing him up to 24 percent. The surge was particularly impressive given that left-wing groups organized nationwide feminist protests against Bolsonaro and he faced allegations of having threatened to kill his ex-wife, who denied the claims and supports his candidacy.

O Globo notes in an article Wednesday that Bolsonaro’s growing support “was aided also by advances among segments of the electorate traditionally loyal to ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.” The newspaper reports that Bolsonaro’s support appears to be growing while Haddad’s has stagnated and other party candidates have tanked in support, indicating that Bolsonaro is gaining from the left, not the right.

“Among the poorest voters – those with a household income of up to one minimum wage – the PT maintains the advantage, but it was reduced in between the last two Ibope polls,” the article explains. Two weeks ago, Haddad dominated this demographic with a 15-point lead. This week, Bolsonaro cut that difference by half – now Haddad maintains 28 percent of the vote, dropping two points, while Bolsonaro went up six points to 19 percent.

O Globo notes that nearly 40 percent of the population has a household income of up to two minimum salaries a month, making this a pivotal voting block.

Folha de Sao Paulo, another one of Brazil’s major newspapers, reported on Wednesday that this turn of events has forced the PT to launch attacks against Bolsonaro that they were expecting to be able to keep in their back pockets for the run-off election. The attacks would represent a shift in focus from elevating Haddad’s name recognition and popularity through positive ads, which the PT saw as necessary given Lula’s domination of their image for years. The shift in focus triggered some dissent within the party, the newspaper reported, particularly from those who hoped the PT could sail into a run-off on a “peace and love” platform. Bolsonaro’s ability to court “Petista” votes, as PT supporters are called, has made it a possibility that no run-off election will be necessary. Folha notes that internal PT polling matches Ibope and Datafolha.

Some Brazilian analysts are arguing that, while Bolsonaro has led in the polls for months, the current surge appeared to turn on one major event: Saturday’s #EleNao protests.

Under the banner “ele nao” (“not him”), thousands of feminist protesters took the streets of 62 cities in Brazil and organized internationally to oppose Bolsonaro, branding it a feminist cause to keep him from the presidency. Many waved flags of the PT and other socialist organizations in the country, creating a significant contrast with their red and black from the waves of yellow and green, the Brazilian flag colors, featured in Bolsonaro rallies.

“It is a group that is making lots of noise, but it is not representative of the majority of the electorate,” Jairo Pimentel, a researcher for the prestigious Getúlio Vargas Foundation, told O Globo. “Bolsonaro gained with poor women in the Northeast, who care more about improving their economic situation [than leftist causes]. In their case, the material question overrides the moral question.”

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