Brazil Elections Show Parallels to US Polling Errors

By Alejandro Ramirez

On Oct. 3, Brazil, the fourth largest democracy in the world, headed to the polls to vote in the 2022 presidential election.

The main candidates were incumbent right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro and former left-wing president Luiz Inázio Lula Da Silva. Polls taken throughout the summer showed Lula leading Bolsonaro by large margins; some polls even predicted that Lula would get 50 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off election. 

However, when polls closed and the results came in, it showed Lula leading Bolsonaro by smaller margins than expected. Because of the fact that neither candidate got 50 percent of the vote (Lula got 48 and Bolsonaro got 44), they now face a run-off election later this month.

According to Denis Rey, an associate professor of political science and international studies, the errors in polling are the same phenomenon that you see in United States polls. They often tend to underestimate the number of people willing to vote for radical candidates.

“When you poll people, they may not willingly disclose that they are a Trump or a Bolsonaro supporter because the candidates may be viewed in a poor light… so, it tends to skew polling a bit when voting for these candidates,” said Rey.

Throughout his presidency, Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for his radical views on the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, abortions, guns, and on vaccines. The destruction of the Amazon Rainforest is something that he is also criticized for. More recently, he is criticized for the way that he acted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, While Lula once was seen in a positive light, a corruption scandal and conviction from 2017 destroyed the confidence that Brazilians once had for him.

The choices have left many Brazilians picking the best option out of two very flawed candidates.

“It’s choosing between two very bad options. You just have to weigh which one is worse,” said Paulo Cezar Lopes, a Brazilian international student and business and entrepreneurship major.

This particular election in Brazil has been one of the most polarizing elections in modern Brazilian history. The divide between Lula and Bolsonaro voters is shown by the way that people voted. The poorer northeast mostly voted for Lula while the richer south tended to vote for Bolsonaro.

According to Sophia Amaral, a Brazilian international student musical theater major, the main motivation that drove Brazilians to vote is one that is driven by hate.

“Not only do people who vote for Bolsonaro hate Lula and the other way around, but people are really mad about things in general,” said Amaral.

According to Amaral, under Bolsonaro’s presidency, both sides have become heavily polarized, refusing to see each other’s sides.

“Lula did a lot of good things for the northeast that people in the south and in my region don’t recognize,” said Amaral.

Bolsonaro has run a brutal campaign against Lula, targeting his left-wing policies and comparing them to neighboring Venezuela, a country that has fallen into an economic crisis.

“Bolsonaro is saying that Lula is trying to bring socialism into Brazil and that if they pick Lula, then Brazil is going to follow a similar path to that of Venezuela,” said William Myers, an associate professor of political science at The University of Tampa.

Several deaths have been reported having involved political arguments between Lula and Bolsonaro supporters.  According to an article by France 24, attacks on polling stations have occurred and some poll workers have received death threats. 

According to one poll, 70 percent of Brazilians fear the violence that may come during or after the run-off elections.

“Bolsonaro’s government gave space to violent people to manifest themselves and be ok with it,” said Amaral. “Because if the president says yes, then why can’t you do that?”

Bolsonaro has long been calling into question the integrity of Brazil’s elections and has even hinted that he will not accept the election results should he lose.

“Since the summer, Bolsonaro has been talking about how the election is going to be corrupt and a fraud. And so, if he loses, it’s because they rigged it against him,” said Myers.

Some of the other factors that played a huge role in the way that Brazilians voted is Bolsonaro’s mishandling of COVID-19, Lula’s corruption scandal, and the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest.

For some Brazilians, there is anger over the two candidates that survived the first round of elections.

“The question should be what are voters not considering,” said Lopes. “I feel like If they were considering anything, then those two options would not have advanced… I don’t know why they chose these two candidates. There’s not a lot of good options but I refuse to believe that these were the best two options.”

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