Six takeaways from Brazil’s election

The vote yielded unexpected wins in key districts, confirmed a conservative majority in Congress and evidenced how polls underestimated Jair Bolsonaro

Brazilians waiting to vote in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilians waiting to vote in Rio de Janeiro.RICARDO MORAES (Reuters)

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Jair Bolsonaro and six other candidates faced each other this past Sunday, October 2, in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election.

These were the key takeaways of the day:

-Run-off. None of the candidates obtained enough votes to clinch the election in the first round. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva received more than 57 million votes (48.38%), two points short of the figure required to win a third term outright. That means that in four weeks he will again face off against the president, Jair Bolsonaro. On October 30, Brazilians will choose between two antagonistic models for running the country.

-Bolsonaro’s strength. The incumbent’s performance has been much better than any of the polls had predicted. He is only five points behind Lula when the polls had placed him between 10 and 15 points behind his leftist rival.

-Failure of polls. For months, Bolsonaro and his followers had been insisting that polls underestimated his strength, just like in 2018. And they were right. Although several surveys have been published each week in recent months, none of the most reliable ones foresaw such a close presidential race.

-Victory in São Paulo. Nobody was expecting it: Bolsonaro won comfortably in the wealthiest state in Brazil. His candidate in the race for governor, Tarcísio Gomes Freitas, a former minister who is from the rival city of Rio de Janeiro, obtained a seven-point lead over Fernando Haddad, a former Workers’ Party (PT) candidate and former mayor. Both will fight it out in the second round of voting.

-A right-leaning Congress. The next president of Brazil, whoever he may be, will have to govern with a clearly conservative National Congress. Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) will have the biggest presence in the Chamber of Deputies, with 99 seats. The lower house has 513 seats, but it will be nearly impossible for Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) to build a majority.

- A five-hour vote count. Although Brazil is twice the size of Europe and its electorate exceeds 156 million voters, electronic ballot boxes reach every corner of the country, including the remote villages of the Amazon. This facilitates a speedy vote count: in just five hours, 99% of the votes had already been counted.


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