Polls continue to favor former president Lula da Silva, but the gap between him and the current President is still very narrow.
HAVANA TIMES – Brazil holds runoff elections this Sunday, October 30, in which President Jair Bolsonaro, of the Liberal Party (PL), and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of the Workers’ Party (PT) will face each other. Just three days from the voting, polls continue to favor the former president, but the gap separating him from the current president is “very narrow.” Political analyst Daniel Zovatto believes that Lula still “has not secured the presidency,” and that the election “is still open.”
Lula da Silva, who governed Brazil between 2003 and 2011, is back in a presidential contest after spending 580 days in prison convicted of corruption. Bolsonaro, who is seeking reelection as president, is questioned for his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. As a result, both candidates face widespread rejection by part of Brazilian society.
This election has led the country into “a situation of toxic hyperpolarization,” warns Zovatto, who is regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). “The fight is not only whether voters choose Lula or Bolsonaro, but the fundamental element is anti-Workers’ Party (against Lula) and anti-Bolsonaro,” he stressed.
During this interview that Zovatto gave to the program Esta Noche and Confidencial, he explains how Brazilian society is divided in the midst of a dirty campaign, in which both candidates have said all kinds of derogatory slurs to each other and in which “an uncertain and at same time volatile context” prevails.
You have described Sunday’s election between Lula and Bolsonaro in Brazil, as heart-stopping, in which Lula continues leading the polls with a small advantage, but the competition is open and is dominated by uncertainty, what are the latest projections?
I see a very close election, with a lot of intensity, a lot of dirty campaigning with all the attacks you can imagine and a clearly uncertain and volatile context. Last week the trend was that Bolsonaro was closing the gap with Lula and was practically placing him in a technical tie. That is how we closed last week. With a Datafolha poll which in one way or another confirmed this, 48 to 44, Datafolha said the difference was barely 4 points.
On Monday we woke up with a completely different scenario. Virtually all the polls that came out on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, confirmed a different trend putting Lula as still the favorite, but instead of narrowing the difference, it has been widening and has gone from 4 to 5 and even 6 points. All except in one that came out on Tuesday, which is Parana Pesquisas, which establishes a completely different trend of only 0.4% in favor of Lula, practically a total technical tie.
How much can the polls be trusted, at least in the weighing in of Bolsonaro? I ask you this because in the first round they got Lula’s vote right at around 48%, but they failed in the projections for Bolsonaro who got 10 points more than what the polls were giving him. Does that sort of hidden or shameful vote for Bolsonaro still exists today?
That is the million-dollar question. If I had an absolute, clear and accurate answer I would make a lot of money, unfortunately I don’t have it. So here are several hypotheses: first, what is going to be the level of participation and above all what would be the level of abstention that we are going to have in the voting on Sunday. In one of Wednesday’s polls, they ask: who are you going to vote for, Bolsonaro or Lula? In that first answer of valid votes, Lula leads Bolsonaro by 6 points, 53 to 47.
But in that same survey, which is that of QUAES, they then ask, are you planning to vote? What in English is called likely voters. When the estimate is made with likely voters, the difference of 6 points in favor of Lula is reduced to 4.2%. Why? Because there seems to be a tendency and the danger of abstention will be higher among those who favor Lula than those who are going to vote for Bolsonaro.
That is a first element to take into account. The second has to do with the possibility of underestimating again Bolsonaro’s vote, because (in the first round) they got it right with Lula. They gave him 48% and he got 48%, but Bolsonaro was given between 33 and 35 and he got 43%. They were wrong between 8 to 10%. Obviously, the pollsters have taken all measures to correct this problem of underestimation, but that remains an open question that I cannot answer for you.
The candidates who obtained the third and fourth place in the first round, Simone Tebet and Ciro Gomes, who together add 7%, support Lula in this second round, has this been translated into an increase of votes for Lula or does it remain the same?
On October 2, Lula got 48%, Bolsonaro got 43%, there was a difference of 5% that correspond to 6 million votes. Between Tebet and Gomes they got less than 10% and both —between the first-round and now near the second round— gave their express and explicit support to Lula. However, not all voters of Tebet and Ciro Gomes in the first round will automatically go to Lula in the runoff, but an important percentage will, and I believe that is part of what is going on right now. In the latest polls, Lula has 53% and Bolsonaro 47%.
Here is a very important issue to be considered, since October 2 to date, when there are only four days left for the October 30 elections. In all the polls, except the last one mentioned from Parana Pesquisas, which we have to put aside momentarily, Lula never went below a difference of at least 4 points over Bolsonaro, and in some cases that difference went up to 6%. So, I think that Lula is still clearly the favorite in this election. But in no way does he have the Presidency assured and the election is still open for the moment.
Bolsonaro, as president, is looking for the vote of the poor who tend to support Lula and there has been a big increase in the welfare program called Auxilio Brasil. Has this had any impact on the electorate and the recovery of the Brazilian economy?
A lot of impact. I believe that the main factors that explained, at least last week, this narrowing of the gap between Lula and Bolsonaro, were attributed to three main causes. First, there was a slight but important improvement in the image of Bolsonaro’s government, which had been in the doldrums. At this time, according to most surveys, we basically have 35% who consider Bolsonaro’s government very good, 23% regular and 40% bad. There he improved a little bit.
The second thing that played in his favor is that Bolsonaro’s image also improved a little bit and especially with the help of the First Lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, who tried to get closer to women, a group of electors that is very unfavorable to (Jair) Bolsonaro over his positions on several issues.
Thirdly, is that the economic situation has improved a little, inflation fell for the third consecutive month, unemployment fell below 9%. All these things were generating a better climate for Bolsonaro. And the fourth thing, a massive injection of resources through the Auxilio Brasil program, which consists of 115 dollars a month to 20 million poor families, to steal from Lula part of that electorate that has an income of one or two minimum-wage salaries and that is strongly in favor of Lula.
What impact would a possible reelection, a Bolsonaro victory, have in the midst of this climate of polarization?
This is an unprecedented election in Latin America because we have not had an election where a former president, who served two consecutive terms, from 2003 to 2010, competes to try to return after being heavily accused and prosecuted for major corruption cases, including Odebrecht, Lava Jato, etc.; with an incumbent president who seeks reelection and who is a president with lots of detractors. This has led to a situation of toxic hyperpolarized in Brazil.
From wherever you look the country is split in half, to such a degree that the fundamental fight is not only if Lula or Bolsonaro is elected, but the fundamental element is anti-workers’ party (rejection of the Workers’ Party) against Lula and those anti-Bolsonaro. In both cases, 46% of the people who say that they will vote for Lula or for Bolsonaro say: in the case of Lula, I am going to vote to prevent Bolsonaro from remaining in power and, in the other case, they say that they will vote in favor of Bolsonaro to prevent Lula from returning to power.
That is what is really dividing, putting a maximum strain on Brazilian society and this is reflected in a very dirty campaign, very negative, where there are still four days left and a lot can happen. This Friday, October 28, there will be a very important debate where I believe that, depending on what happens, it may even have a final impact on this election, which is still very close and open.
In the last debate between the two candidates, Bolsonaro openly confronted Lula about his friendship and political sympathy with dictator Daniel Ortega. Lula did not answer at all, he backed out. Is this an issue of any relevance in this electoral debate? What can be expected from Lula, in case he wins the presidency, in terms of his foreign policy towards the dictatorships of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela?
In the last debate that you point out, Bolsonaro strongly attacked Lula talking about all his alleged corruption scandals…Regarding Nicaragua, he accused him of being a friend (of Daniel Ortega) and an accomplice, for his silence, for not strongly denouncing the dictatorship, neither that of Venezuela nor the one in Cuba. Lula, for his part, skipped any reference, the truth is that he was very distracted, he made no comments on that regard. This issue of the Nicaraguan dictatorship in the context of the Brazilian electoral campaign, and I say this with great pain, has very little importance.
If Lula is elected, we will have to see what his foreign policy approach will be in relation to these issues. I hope that Lula’s position will be much closer to the foreign policy position of President (Gabriel) Boric, in the case of Chile. He has been criticizing the Nicaraguan dictatorship, has been advocating for the release of the political prisoners. I think that is the position that an important country, like Brazil, should have in terms of foreign policy, but I am not very sure about it. Maybe instead of getting closer to Chile’s position, it could be closer to a position like Argentina’s or that of Colombia, that tries to combine the national interests of Brazilian policies, and in terms human rights maybe it would be a little more energetic in its criticism. But in terms of democracy, elections, maybe it would be closer to Mexico’s position.
You were saying that something can still happen in these last days that can tip the outcome. Are there still undecided at this moment in this election? What can happen between now and Sunday?
In most of the polls we see between 4 to 6% of those who say that they are going to vote null or blank and there are between 1 and 2% who are still undecided. The truth is that it will be difficult to attribute in terms of undecided or those who say they are going to blank or null if they will end up supporting Lula or deciding to favor Bolsonaro. I think that in many of these cases these decisions are very emotional and are taken at the last minute, many times in front of the ballot box.
What is important to emphasize is that in this election more than 94% of voters who have said that they are going to vote have already decided their vote and have expressed that they will not change their position. Therefore, there is a very high level of concentration here. There are very few possible voters yet to be defined. But in such a close race as the one we are seeing; this may have an important impact.
Anything could happen in these last days, because this is a campaign where they have said all sorts of things. From Bolsonaro’s side they have told Lula, without naming him, that he is the devil. And from Lula’s side they have told Bolsonaro that he is, among other things, a cannibal. That gives you the level of madness, of dirty campaigning, with hot social networks, where the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is trying to see how to put some order in that virtual reality. We are talking about a very close, very narrow, volatile difference, where any important issue can have an impact on x number of voters that end up deciding the result either in favor of Lula or in favor of Bolsonaro.