Come Sunday, Brazil will have its next president, and there's a chance a sitting president could lose her seat. But beyond determining the country's next leader, what has the presidential race revealed about Brazil?
- More virulent campaign tactics are happening. The campaign has taken on a much more aggressive tone as both parties aim to show the other as an enemy of the Brazilian people. Both are casting themselves as defenders against the other, sometimes in ways that verge on ridiculous. "I'm going to free Brazil from the PT!" Neves yelled at a recent rally. This week, his party released a campaign video of a cartoon depicting the "monsters" of the PT government, including a Cuban Godzilla and Petrobras vampires. Rousseff, meanwhile, wrote on Facebook that the PSDB see Brazil as a catastrophe, and are the ones who opposed the World Cup (which some saw as an indirect criticism of last year's protesters). On Twitter, she said the rival opposition party only "represents a third of Brazil."
- Political polarization among voters has deepened. Political chatter has reached a fever pitch, particularly on social media, leading to bitter arguments among friends. It's been so bad that the Justice Ministry launched a social media campaign with the slogan: "Don't confuse hate speech with freedom of speech." One observer is even concerned that this polarization could persist after the election. "Brazil is torn. Half on one side, half on the other. Someone will will by a slim margin. If the tone on the internet continues as it is, the path of the country is blocked," wrote Globo columnist Pedro Doria. "There will be hate among Brazilians. Searching for a civilized conversation is our first mission next Monday."
- Lower-income voters don't mean left-wing voters. One of the frequent complaints of some right-leaning voters is that the poor consistently vote for the PT, and that the PT uses programs like the cash-transfer program Bolsa Familia to win those votes. But Neves' close second finish in the first round and the election of the most conservative Congress in the post-1964 period indicates that there's a diversity of support for the right. Rio blogger Julia Michaels even argues: "Paradoxically, it may be that part of Dilma’s Workers’ Party shrinking appeal is due to a growing conservatism on the part of those who have left poverty during their watch."
- Polling is still unreliable. Surveys underestimated Neves' showing in the first round and overestimated Rousseff's. "Much of the unpredictability is a product of Brazil being a young democracy," writes journalist Stephen Kurczy for the Americas Quarterly blog. Reasons include a lack of historical election data, making it hard to predict voter intention; fewer numbers of polls and lower sample sizes; a more volatile, multiparty system, and in-person polling.
- The vote represents a referendum on the PT. Marina Silva's brief rise and Aécio Neves' now real threat to Rousseff show increasing discontent with the ruling party. "Dilma's already been defeated," wrote journalist Juliana Cunha on her blog. "To be practically tied with Aécio Neves even with the state machine behind her and Lulaism's emotional appeal is a big blow." Plus, she says, "Dilma's rejection shows that the PT's project to redistribute income has dried up, and the government has failed in taking the next step to bring people out of poverty...it's not a lack of charisma, nor Dilma's personal incompetentence, and it's definitely not because Aécio Neves is a good candidate." She added: "It's important the PT realizes that even if it wins, it's lost, and will continue to lose as long as it doesn't advance inclusion of consumers to extend to inclusion of citizens."
- The election spurred a debate about what Brazilian democracy means. "An electoral campaign in which polls were debated more than platforms was more like a videogame than a presidential vote," wrote journalist Elio Gaspari. In a Folha piece about social media spats over which candidate to support, Brazilian designer Ronaldo Fraga complained: "Everyone talks so much about democracy on Facebook, but this isn't democracy." Thiago de Aragão, partner at Arko Advice, wrote on Linkedin: "Democracy isn't just voting. It's participating, getting involved, criticizing, protesting, and constructing throughout a government's administration." Plus, when it comes to choosing a candidate, not enough consideration goes in to the process, he said. "People decide at the last minute because Brazilians are like that. Importance doesn't matter; deadlines do."
- There's a sense of alienation among those who don't support either candidate. Whether it's a matter of not feeling represented by either candidate, not liking either option, or being tired of the angry rhetoric, there's a portion of the population that's unsatisfied with the choice they're given. Even in the first round, abstention reached a 16-year-high, even though voting is mandatory. On October 5, more people chose no candidate (voting blank, null, or abstaining) than those who voted for Neves, who came in second. With fewer choices this time around, abstention and blank votes could also remain high. "The two candidates are worthless. If it was up to me, they'd both lose," a Carioca friend of mine wrote on Facebook.