Some Quick Thoughts on the Latest Polls in Brazil

Three months out from the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff and the imposition of Michel Temer as acting President, Datafolha recently published new polling data that gives some interesting insights into how the impeachment and the Temer administration are resonating in the interregnum between Dilma’s removal and her upcoming trial in the Senate. The snapshot finds that half of those polled were in favor of Temer’s continuity, with 32% preferring the return of Dilma, and only 3% wanting new elections (with another 4% wanting neither Dilma nor Temer, but not wanting new elections). Given the lack of support for new elections, it seems unlikely that they would happen, barring some unprecedented and unforeseeable event (though to be fair, 2016 has already been full of unprecedented and unforeseeable events in Brazilian politics already).

Of course, that half the country says Temer should stay in office does not mean he enjoys support. Indeed, he currently is only at a 14% approval rating. The discrepancy between his approval rating and those who say he should stay in office makes some small sense, however, if the latter is understood not as pro-Temer (nor anti-Dilma) sentiment, but as people likely just wanting no more political instability. That 32% also want the return of Dilma is likely only partly support for her, with the possibility that, while also unpopular, her removal was dubious at best – a possibility backed up by the fact that, while 58% want her permanently removed (down from nearly 70% in April), 35% want her reinstated. Thus, Temer is unpopular, but they’d rather not deal with anymore of the political insanity that Brazil has endured across the last several months. On the one hand, this is not necessarily a good thing, as it means that the highly-problematic tactics to impeach Dilma under spurious charges have become normalized; on the other hand, it also points to a desire for institutional stability, which is important as well – especially given the institutional instability behind a Congress impeaching a president without any evidence of illegal activity even while that self-same Congress is rife with corruption.

The data that has raised more eyebrows is the fact that one-third of those polled didn’t know the acting president’s name. While this led to no small amount of guffawing on Twitter and in Facebook comments, this actually taps into the more pernicious isolation of Brazilian politics. Politics in Brazil have long functioned as an arena for the elites cut off from the masses in any number of guises and historical moments, from the Empire to the 2013 protests; that 33% of those polled did not know which was the acting president only reinforces the perception of national politics not registering in or appealing to not-insignificant portions of the population.

Finally, in a separate poll, Datafolha found that, in a list of possible candidates for president in 2018, former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva leads other named candidates like ex-senator Marina Silva and José Serra of the PSDB (who has lost the presidential elections twice before, is currently in Michel Temer’s cabinet, and whose name has come up periodically in the Lava Jato investigation). Interestingly, while Lula leads, he would lose a second-round runoff against either Silva or Serra, based on the poll. In some regards, this is just an entertaining game of “what if” for elections that are over 2 years away (and, based on what has happened just in the last 9 months, a lot can happen in 2 years). That said, it does show that Lula reveals some strong degree of support amongst a considerable number of Brazilians, suggesting that either the PT remains somewhat popular or that his charisma and nostalgia for the accomplishments of his presidency – which saw remarkable economic growth and social reform -transcends disgust with party politics (I suspect it’s the latter).

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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