Brazil’s Presidential Election

Denis Alves Guimarães, a visiting researcher at U of M, gave a talk to the IEDP group on October 29th regarding the recent Brazilian presidential election, including the evolution of the race and how it related to political power structures and priorities in Brazil.

We all come into this course with varying degrees of familiarity with Brazil, so it was appreciated that Mr. Alves began with an introduction to Brazil’s multi-party system. The approximately 30 political parties in Brazil are organized into 3 main coalitions: PT (Worker’s Party) led by Dilma Rouseff, the current president; PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), led by Aécio Neves; and PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party), led by Marina Silva. A unique trait, we learned, of Brazilian parties is the ease with which many politicians switch parties. In fact, Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva were once members of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s PT government (2003-2011).

Brazil’s two-step campaign system, and the uniqueness of this particular race, were explained to us as well. First, PSB’s initial candidate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash on August 13th. His VP candidate Marina Silva took over and made the coalition much more attractive to voters. A former Green Party candidate and the daughter of rubber tappers from the far western state of Acre, she had earned 19% in the 2011 election. Marina’s national name-recognition allowed the PSB, from polling at 8% in early August, to pull even with Dilma Rouseff’s PT at 34% in a poll on September 1st. However, this popularity was not to last, and she came in third in the first round of presidential voting on October 5th.

One reason for this may have been the ad campaigns of the other coalitions. Negative ads predominated throughout the campaign, and PT and PSDB especially focused their resources on Marina Silva. We also learned how Brazil regulates political TV ad time. While free for all parties, the distribution of time is determined by the last national vote, and the relative size of each coalition in Congress. This meant that while PT got 12 minutes of free airtime each day and PSDB 4 minutes, PSB got only 2 minutes. While some ads attracted more interest for their style than their substance, this arrangement clearly did not help Marina Silva. In the end, a run-off was required between Ms. Rouseff and Mr. Neves, scheduled for three weeks after the initial elections.

Similar to US elections, debates and negative ads occupied a great deal of the airtime in the lead-up to the runoff. Ms. Silva endorsed Mr. Neves on October 12th, but PSDB ultimately earned about as many former Marina supporters’ votes as PT did. Dilma Rouseff earned her re-election with 51.64% of the vote. The question for the future, as Mr. Alves suggested, is what does the re-election of a PT president predict about the fate of PT programs?

Our class has a wide array of policy interests, so it was useful to hear about some of the Brazilian government’s major policy programs. Most of us were familiar with the social aid organization Bolsa Familia, which has received worldwide praise for its poverty alleviation efforts throughout Brazil. It is unlikely that this program will be significantly changed, since Mr. Alves showed a strong correlation in this election between Bolsa Familia recipients, and districts won by Ms. Rouseff. However, other programs may run into more trouble. Mais Médicos (More Doctors) sends Cuban doctors to provide care in underserved areas of rural Brazil; while a very successful program, some Brazilians are troubled by its political implications. Urban and rural land rights organizations are very popular in certain places (stay tuned for a write-up of our class on Brazilian Urbanism), but do not have universal popularity like Bolsa Familia. Finally, the education scholarship group Prouni is popular with many Brazilians, but often sends students to less prestigious, more expensive, private universities, rather than the more prestigious, free, public universities that are mainly filled by those students who (ironically) could afford to pay to attend private high schools.

Overall, we learned a great deal from Mr. Alves, and now have a strong sense of the political landscape in Brazil, and some leads on what specific policy programs we could investigate in Brazil. Obrigado!

Kyle Olsen
JD/MPP 2018


Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.

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