On average, pollsters underestimated incumbent right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro by about eight points in the first round of Brazil’s elections on Sunday. They also showed that left-wing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – popularly known as “Lula” – would secure 50% of the votes plus one to avoid a runoff. All of this proved to be inaccurate, with Lula securing 48.3% and Bolsonaro close behind at 43.2%.
This shift was likely due to some voters changing their mind at the last minute. There was also a hidden vote for Bolsonaro that didn’t show up in opinion surveys. However, pollsters swear that they are accurately predicting Lula’s victory in runoff scheduled for October 30.
Despite a tighter-than-expected result, Lula, 76, was in a good mood at his campaign headquarters on Sunday night, located in a hotel in downtown São Paulo. He told his supporters, “we’re going to win, this is only a delay.”
Earlier in the day, the mood among supporters of Lula and his Workers’ Party was somber. At one point, Bolsonaro, 67, had taken the lead by four points. When Lula finally overtook him – thanks to late results from the northeast – the prevailing sentiment was relief rather than jubilation.
At around 10pm, the former union leader – who served as president from 2003 until 2010 – gave his victory speech. He was accompanied by his wife, Rosangela Janja da Silva; his candidate for vice president, the center-right former governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin; as well as ex-president Dilma Rousseff (2011-16), among others.
Lula projected an image of confidence, assuring victory in the second round. He even cracked some jokes: “I was thinking about going on a honeymoon… but that will have to wait. It will be of great sadness to some that I have 30 more days of campaigning!”
Lula also reminded the audience that, in the six elections he has contested, he has never won outright in the first round. The last president to avoid a runoff was Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1994.
In front of the hotel, the fences installed to ensure crowd-control weren’t necessary. Only a trickle of loyal followers hung around to hear from their leader.
“These are going to be four long weeks. Bolsonaro is going to have extra time to tear the process apart,” said Camila Lisboa, a 44-year-old architect dressed in a red coat because of the cold temperatures. She has voted for Lula every time that he has run, although she admits being upset about the corruption scandals that have engulfed his Workers’ Party.
“A lot of people didn’t vote for him because of that,” she explained. Her father, for example, was once a Lula supporter… until he got sick of the corruption. He voted for Bolsonaro in this election.
Lula spent the last few weeks trying to convince undecided and centrist voters to turn the tide in his favor. However, many ended up voting for Bolsonaro, despite what the polls predicted. Some members of Lula’s inner circle have pointed to the fact that many Brazilians may have felt embarrassed to openly express their support for the bombastic right-wing incumbent.
Lula will now need to win over the 7% of Brazilians who voted for the third and fourth place finishers – Senator Simone Tebet and former Lula minister Ciro Gomes respectively. While Tebet and Gomes have been critics of Lula’s scandals, they are ideologically closer to him than to Bolsonaro.
Left-wing activist Raimundo Bonfim was feeling anxious as he stood around the refreshment tables at Lula’s victory party. “There was the hope that we would win in the first round… but I was prepared for the runoff.”
While Bonfim is confident that Lula will triumph in the end, he doesn’t think that the runoff election will be a “walk in the park.” “We can’t sit on the couch [next month]. There’s the risk that Bolsonaro could win.”