Rousseff inches forward in voter support

But Brazilian incumbent would still lose to surprise candidate Marina Silva in runoff, poll finds

Dilma Rousseff (left) embracing Marina Silva during the funeral for Socialist leader Eduardo Campos.
Dilma Rousseff (left) embracing Marina Silva during the funeral for Socialist leader Eduardo Campos.R. M. (REUTERS)

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who is running for re-election on October 5, has gained three points in voter intention, according to the latest polls.

But the Workers Party (PT) incumbent, who would get 37 percent support, would still lose out to her main rival Marina Silva in a runoff, according to a survey released Wednesday by Instituto Ibope.

The Socialist contender, whose popularity has grown exponentially since she replaced Eduardo Campos last month after his death in a plane crash in August, would get 46 percent of the ballot in the second round of voting, after securing 33 percent support in round one.

While Rousseff’s recovery seems small, Silva’s own momentum has been losing steam since last week, leading observers to believe that no matter who wins, victory will be obtained by a narrow margin.

Silva is winning the hearts of the young and educated, but has trouble enlisting support from the poor

The sociologist Fernando Abrucio thinks it unlikely that Rousseff will be losing any more ground from now until election time.

“Around 35 percent of Brazilian voters have said they would accept voting for Lula [da Silva]’s candidate. The Dilma Rousseff administration has received better grades. It is very difficult to believe that Marina Silva will outperform the PT in the first round,” he says.

Rudá Ricci, another sociologist, underscores the fact that 70 percent of voters support either Rousseff or Silva, while the Social Democrat Aécio Neves enjoys a much smaller following after ranking second in voting intention for a while.

“This will be the worst result for the Brazilian Social Democratic Party [PSDB] in presidential elections since the 1990s,” said Ricci. The PSDB was last in power between 1995 and 2003 under Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Rousseff has a few aces up her sleeve to conserve voter support: the charismatic former president Lula da Silva, who has been campaigning for her, a strong canvassing effort and an aggressive strategy targeting her main rival’s weak points.

At a campaign event in Minas Gerais on Wednesday, Rousseff told business leaders that if she is re-elected, there will be notable changes in her government team. This is a significant statement for the financial markets, given the private sector’s dislike of the current finance minister, Guido Mantega.

Marina Silva has been the surprise candidate of this campaign.
Marina Silva has been the surprise candidate of this campaign.Sebastião Moreira (EFE)

Also this week, the incumbent promised to approve a law making crimes against homosexuals similar before the law to racist crimes. The pledge seeks to make Rousseff stand out from Silva, who has withdrawn her early support for gay and lesbian causes following pressure from the evangelical community.

According to Ricci, Rousseff still has the backing of the unions, part of the Catholic Church and of Brazilians who embrace the fight against inequality. Meanwhile, Marina Silva is winning the hearts of the young and educated, but will have trouble enlisting support from the poor, who do not wish to lose the state aid granted by the PT government.

This is even the case in her home state of Acre, in northern Brazil, where she grew up in an area where rubber production is the main driver of the economy.

Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima was born here on February 8, 1958 and some of the locals still remember her fondly, though they admit they will vote for Dilma Rousseff instead.

While Rousseff’s recovery seems small, Silva’s own momentum has been losing steam since last week

“Marina is good, she knows this whole region, but I am going to vote for Dilma,” says Adaíldo Carneiro Lima, 73, who lives in Quixadá. “She [Rousseff] gave us this house. We cannot be ungrateful.”

Carneiro is referring to the home he received eight months ago through a federal program called Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House, My Life). Government aid also allowed Zé Gomes, a 90-year-old from Lima, to get new dentures. Gomes flashes as smile as he remembers Marina Silva: “She was very small, very slight, and she was always running around.”

When she first ran for president with the Green Party in 2010, Silva was the third-most-voted candidate in Acre, after the PSDB’s José Serra and the PT’s Rousseff. Voting intention in Acre for the upcoming elections has not been specified.

Why is Silva, now a Socialist, not the candidate of choice in her home state? State governor Tião Viana of the PT, in power here for the last 15 years, says that Silva moved away from her own legacy.

“We are really grateful to Lula for the PT’s national project,” he said. “Marina [who served under Lula as environment minister] drifted toward a more global agenda, away from all this.”

The sociologist Elder Andrade adds that the state’s agrobusiness sector does not sympathize with Silva’s pro-environment rhetoric. Also, Acre’s average voter lacks significant schooling.

“Marina is preferred by the urban middle classes and by the young, who have greater environmental awareness,” he notes. “Rural and indigenous populations view her as an oppressive politician because as a minister she created the Chico Mendes Institute [for the conservation of biodiversity], which fined these communities [for breaking the laws].”

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