Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Dilma, Dilma, Dilma

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Dilma, Dilma, Dilma, Neves, Sil-.

The letters in this sentence roughly represent the proportion of free TV airtime that each of Brazil’s three major presidential candidates—President Dilma Rousseff and challengers Aécio Neves and Marina Silva—receives to advertise, based on their party’s representation in government.

Because Silva’s Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) has minimal representation in the lower house of Congress, she only gets a two-minute window in the 25-minute block of free campaign advertising that’s broadcast on TV twice a day every day. President Dilma Rousseff gets nearly six times as much, thanks to the popularity of her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democratic Party—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves, the other top challenger, gets about four and a half minutes.

Yet while Brazilian electoral rules for political TV advertising give Rousseff a clear advantage in her bid for re-election on October 5, the latest polls show Rousseff in a statistical tie against Silva, whose political rise has drawn parallels to the 2008 candidacy of Barack Obama.

By many comparisons, however, Obama had it easy. He was not battling an incumbent, and he had plenty of time to build up the largest campaign war chest in history, with few barriers on how to spend it. Silva, who would also be her country’s first black president, has the least campaign funding of any major candidate and a major disadvantage in advertising on TV, which is how most Brazilians consume their news.For a while, polls mirrored that breakdown of TV airtime, with Rousseff leading against Neves—while far behind was the PSB with its former presidential candidate Eduardo Campos. But when Campos died in a tragic plane crash August 13, Silva was elevated to the top of the party’s ticket and her popularity surged on a wave of sympathy and enthusiasm.

Polls now show a dead heat. In the latest survey from leading pollster Ibope that was released on September 23, Rousseff and Silva are tied. In a likely second-round runoff on October 26—which will happen if no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round—Rousseff and Silva would each earn an estimated 41 percent of the vote. Polls released the same day from CNT/MDA and Vox Populi alternatively favored Silva and Rousseff.

Analysts are reading the tea leaves to project who will win, while many undecided voters will be looking for direction during the remaining presidential debates on September 28 and October 2. Rousseff, a former minister of energy, enjoys support from labor unions and poor voters who have benefitted from the PT’s poverty alleviation programs such as Bolsa Familia. Silva, a former minister of the environment and presidential candidate, has support from young, educated urban voters as well as an investor community tired of interventionist economic policies.

Washington-based political risk consultancy Eurasia views Rousseff as the favorite because of her superior campaign financing, extra TV airtime, and advantage as an incumbent. In recent weeks, she’s clawed back a first-round lead of 9 points against Silva—up from an earlier and narrower lead of  4-6 points—while Silva’s second-round lead has dwindled to being a near statistical tie. Eurasia expects these trend lines to continue.

“Not only does Rousseff continue to benefit from still large popular support and more resources (i.e. TV time, party structure, and campaign funds), but her campaign seems to have been able to successfully fine-tune and moderate the attacks towards Marina in the last several days, after the more aggressive negative campaigning began showing early signs of a blowback last week,” Eurasia wrote in a September 24 note to clients.

But the New York-based advisory firm Nomura Securities favors Silva precisely because she is polling so well despite disadvantages in advertising and funding. A majority of the electorate is looking for substantial change, a role that Silva has filled thanks to her incredible rise from being the uneducated daughter of poor Amazon rubber tappers.

“One can draw a parallel with the promise of the Obama candidacy in 2008 in the United States,” Nomura wrote in a September 16 note to clients.

Come the second round of the election and the expected faceoff between Silva and Rousseff, the political opposition will be united, Silva’s campaign will be more organized, and the allotted TV airtime will be split evenly—looking something more like Dilma, Dilma, Dilma, Silva, Silva, Silva.

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