Given that Silva had been polling in a clear second place behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff, her decision to support Campos only came about as a result of her failure to legally register her own political party by the deadline required for Presidential candidates. Given that the highest support Campos had received in national polls to date was 8%, Silva’s exit had the potential to dramatically re-align the race. And it has.
The latest Datafolha poll issued this weekend shows Dilma at 42% in the first round, the centre-right alliance’s Aecio Neves at 21% and Eduardo Campos at 15%.
One of the golden rules of polling in the United States – admittedly a much different landscape to Brazil – is that incumbents can only be considered “safe” if their stated support in early polls exceeds 50%+1. It would be fair to say that Dilma remains in a dominant position at this stage in the cycle but, with only four in ten voters expressing a willingness to vote for her in the first round, these numbers are troubling for her.
With Silva’s exit, there was also the possibility that some of her hardened left-wing supporters may have returned to Dilma as the “best worst” option in a battle between the avowedly-establishment Neves and relatively unknown Campos. In reality, her supporters seem to have transferred relatively evenly to both Campos and Neves.
If the two men can successfully polarise the Brazilian political landscape to the extent that 45% of voters stay doggedly loyal to Dilma, yet 55% are willing to vote for “anybody but Dilma” in the second round, either of them could find a path to victory. It will be fascinating to see how the two men approach campaigning against each other as the race hots up. Not being toxic to one another’s voter base will be crucial.
In the unlikely instance that Campos was to stand aside as the Socialist Party’s nominee (possibly to accept the Vice-Presidential role on a Marina Silva-led ticket), Dilma would poll 39% to Silva’s 29% and Neves’ 17%. Silva hasn’t ruled this possibility out – but it would appear to be run contrary to her agreement with Campos and the wider Socialist Party.
Looking beyond the headline figures, there’s one observation I think it more significant than any other.
Datafolha polled a third scenario which pitted Dilma against former Sao Paulo Mayor/Governor Jose Serra and Campos. In this case, Dilma led 40 to Serra’s 25% and Campos’ 15%. The inclusion of Jose Serra in this poll only seeks to highlight Neves’ relative strength in national polls.
Jose Serra has been a mainstay of Brazilian politics for more than twenty years, had a stellar record as Health Minister in the Cardoso administration and was the second-placed finisher to Lula in 2002 and Dilma in 2010. Everyone knows him. Nevertheless, his support doesn’t exceed 25% in national polls. While Neves remains pretty much unknown outside his own state of Minas Gerais and amongst upper middle-class voters in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the fact he still polls 15% in a Dilma/Serra race and 21% against Dilma and Campos speaks to the strength of his candidacy. Additionally, Neves hasn’t had the same kind of PR boost as that handed to Campos but is now polling in a clear second place.
With a year to go until polling day, Neves has a hell of a long way to grow. It’s worth noting that, a year out from the 2010 elections, Dilma’s support in national polls stood at only 16%.
You can find the full crosstabs of the poll here.