Yesterday, voters went to the polls and Dilma Roussef from the Workers’ Party (PT) was re-elected with 51.64% of valid votes, defeating Aecio Neves, from the Social-Democrats Party (PSDB), who reached 48.36% of valid votes. This was the closest presidential challenge since the democratization in 1989. After a year marked by unusual phenomena in the country and forecast mistakes by opinion polls in the first round of the elections, predicting who was going to win the second round of presidential elections was not an easy task. For that reason, Neale Ahmed El-Dash, a statistician who has been working with electoral polls for more than ten years, developed a website where opinion polls were summed and weighted in order to produce a better forecast.
While the closeness of the second round presidential election made it hard to predict who would be the winner, another phenomena raised attention throughout the country: an increase of polarization that reached the point of regional prejudice and hate speechs.
2013 and 2014 were very emotional years for Brazil: a massive wave of protests that broke out in June of last year but continued until the World Cup, the hosting of the largest event of the country’s most beloved sport, the humiliating defeat to Germany. And finally, a presidential running marked by the tragic death of a candidate, the sudden rise and fall of his substitute and a campaign, and an unprecedented level of polarization, aggressiveness and lies.
After the death of the candidate for the “third way”, Eduardo Campos, in a plane crash, Marina Silva took his place. Marina was an even stronger option of this “third way”, having reached 20% of votes in 2010 elections. She decided to become Campos’ candidate for vice-president when her brand new party did not get its license on time to become a candidate herself.
Silva’s poll voting intentions started to rise abruptly, to the point that some people said Mr. Neves should give up on the elections to support her candidacy. Nevertheless, the more she rose, more the two major parties, PT and PSDB, aimed to destroy her image. They enjoyed roughly 10 minutes of daily electoral advertising on TV and radio, while the former Environment Minister had barely 2 minutes to defend herself from accusations. After three weeks, the PSDB candidate started to rise again and Marina’s vote shares plunged. She did not make it to the second round. That could have been the first time in 20 years where the second round would not be PT against PSDB.
After the first round results, everybody knew what was to come: polarization and even more aggressiveness from both sides, since they have dominated almost every political challenge in the country with that polarization.
Neves got the support of many smaller first round contenders and Marina Silva herself. A bribery scandal at Petrobras (a state-run oil company which happens to be the country’s largest enterprise) could help him to consolidate the first place. The economy could also go on his favour.
However, the economic voting theory would be hard to fit in the Brazilian case. First of all, there were more than two candidates at first. Secondly, the country’s economy is not having its best moment, with rising inflation and slow growth at the same time. But it is not in a clear recession as well.
Corruption scandals, in turn, did not seem to play such a big role in voters’ decisions. First, PSDB itself and Mr. Neves in particular are also linked to corruption scandals. For that reason, it is hard to convince undecided voters through claims of corruption in PT. The voters who see in PT the most corrupt party in the country and who advocate voting against PT no matter what happens are already decided since before the candidates names’ were announced. Moreover, corruption is never the main reason for voters’ decisions in Brazil, according to many surveys on that matter.
During the second round the attacks were even harder, with lots of hoaxes disseminated through Facebook about both candidates. A few days before the elections, Veja (a magazine who is known for a sharp opposition to PT) published a strong accusation against Dilma in its front page. The Supreme Electoral Court gave Dilma the right to have her reply published in the magazine’s website. a few days before th After the results were issued, hate speeches against the North-eastern part of the country (where many lower class citizens receive Bolsa-Família, the cash transfer program that became one of the hallmarks of PT’s government) spread through the Internet. To be fair, there were similar hate speeches against the richer Southeasters who re-elected PSDB in the first round. That bigotry is nothing new: Fabio Wanderley dos Reis, a local political scientist, coined the expression “Flamengo syndrome” in 1988, to show how citizens can act similarly to fanatic football fans (Flamengo is a football team from Rio de Janeiro). Nevertheless, the country has never been as divided as it is now since the beginning of the current democratic regime.
PT’s victory raises doubt over the economic policy of the next 4 years: Dilma pursued a “neodevelopmentalist” policy, which made inflation go on the roof of its targets; but she gave some signals that she might change to a more orthodox fashion in her second term. But one thing is for sure: the country came to the end of these elections more divided, and it needs to overcome this rivalry. Although the opposition came to the end of these elections stronger than before (those were the closest results since 2002), it needs to come over all the hatred that its voters are spilling. Class and regional prejudice from PSDB voters is probably one of the main reasons why low income and left-wing citizens hate that party. On the other hand, PT knows that half of the country voted against them. They should also change their ways. If Brazil wants to go further, it needs to become “a country of everyone,” just like the official government slogan says.