As Brazilians go to the polls today for the first round of voting for the presidency of the country, PSDB candidate Aécio Neves has passed PSB candidate Marina Silva for the first time in intentions of the voters. If this holds true, Neves will dispute the presidency with the incumbent, President Dilma Rousseff of the PT who leads the pack of intended votes with 40.6%. Neves, having passed Silva on the last day before today’s election, now has 24% of the intended votes while Silva falls to 21.4%. In Brazilian elections, if no candidate earns 50% or more on the first round of voting, the top two go to a run-off election on October 26th. Yesterday saw Neves complete his comeback, rising 4.2% points to wrestle second place away from Silva who fell 3.8% points into third place.
Among the rest of the candidates from the PSOL, PSC and PRTB carry 1.1%, 0.8% and 0.5% of votes respectively with the others totally only 0.6% together. 5.2% of the voters plan to vote blank or null with 5.8% still not knowing how they will vote.
For Marina Silva, her fall to third place is a dramatic fall in a little more than a month’s time. After taking over her party’s ticket after the tragic death of presidential running mate Eduardo Campos in an August plane crash, Silva stepped in, immediately passed Neves and was running neck and neck with Rousseff. Some polls were predicting that Silva (dubbed the “female Obama” by the international press) would unseat Rousseff in a run-off election by anywhere from 4-7 points. Being hailed as an anti-establishment candidate, Silva surged ahead of Rousseff in a country discontent with the high cost of living and spending on last June’s World Cup, among other issues. These were but a few of the issues that lead to mass protests throughout the country in the summer of 2013.
But since her peak in late August/early September, Silva has seen a dramatic fall as the former rubber tapper fell in popularity every week due to a combination of factors (see here). The Folha newspaper and TV Globo interviewed 18,116 voters in the past two days and showed that Rousseff would win in a run-off against either of her two rivals, predicted to defeat Neves 53%-47% and Silva 55%-45% with a two point margin of error.
Other factors in Silva’s fall included heavy media attacks on Silva by Rousseff’s campaign that put into question the PSB candidate’s ability to lead the country with the support of a major political party. While there are several political parties in Brazil, the two most powerful are the PT (Worker’s Party) that has held the presidency for the past 12 years (8 with Lula da Silva and 4 with Rousseff) and the PSDB, known as the Tucanos that produced President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s presidency for 8 years (1995-2002). The current PT campaign also successfully portrayed Silva as flip-flopper and representative of national and international elites that intend to reverse social policies that led to the gains of the lower classes in the past 12 years. Adding to Silva’s fall was Neves’ good showing in the final debate while Silva came across as weak.
As one headline put it, Dilma stands firm on the offensive, while Silva looked tired of the attacks coming from both sides while Neves came across as re-energized after a surge in the latest polling numbers. Being the most hotly contested race in decades, it will be difficult to predict exactly who will face off on October 26th due to the competition for second place when the margin of error is factored in.