Brazilian politics

What is Brazil’s election landscape now that Haddad will replace Lula in the race?

Experts discuss the challenges for the Workers’ Party to keep Lula’s voters and appeal to female voters

Manuela D'Ávila and Fernando Haddad are running for VP and president in Brazil, respectively. First round will take place on Oct. 7 / Ricardo Stuckert

After Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court banned ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from running for office in the country’s upcoming elections, Fernando Haddad was chosen yesterday by the Workers’ Party to stand with Manuela D’Ávila as his running mate.

Now specialists say the Workers’ Party (PT) has challenges to face, especially making Lula’s voters support Haddad, as the former maintained a strong lead in opinion polls, holding 10 percentage points more than the second place. Another challenge is gaining new votes among a fragmented electorate.

Political scientist Maria Socorro Braga, from the Federal University of São Carlos, points out that Lula had to be replaced on the ticket due to a court decision.

“This candidate replacement was expected, because we knew the courts had barred Lula from running,” she says, arguing that, if the party maintained Lula on the ticket, the country's top electoral court could even bar the coalition from running.

But, according to the expert, while there have been efforts to keep Lula from standing, Haddad could benefit from the ex-president's endorsement, gaining part of his votes.

She also points out that the social and economic setbacks experienced during the current Michel Temer administration will increase the number of so called “retrospective votes” – voters who may choose the PT candidate because they have a positive memory of the party’s previous administrations.

Whatever the administration may be that will rule the country as of January, Braga argues it will have to face a critical situation. So if Haddad is able to show voters that Lula endorses him and that he supports the ex-president’s main social policies – raising the minimum wage and promoting other necessary conditions for people to have a better life, “voters will be more likely to choose the Workers’ Party platform,” she argues.

Workers' Party

Historian Lincoln Secco, from the University of São Paulo, says the PT had political and election gains with the strategy of maintaining the ex-president on the ticket until the legal deadline in the election calendar.

He argues that Lula is “undeniably” the decisive political actor that can gain votes for Haddad, but there are other factors impacting the race.

“It is very unlikely that the party that voters prefer will not have a candidate in the second round [on Oct. 28]. But it is not just a matter of making Lula’s voters vote [for Haddad]. It’s the power Lula represents, and also the PT's nationwide reach.”

According to pollster Ibope, the PT is the party of choice of 29 percent of the Brazilian people. The rate is higher than all other 34 parties combined, and the highest rate for the party since 2014.

Secco says that the Workers’ Party regained prestige because “the right-wing project sunk.”

“The Right has taken the path of the parliamentary coup; then, they pushed highly unpopular reforms the government was not legitimate to implement. So obviously a huge part of the population could resort to what they already know to represent social policies that take a progressive, left-wing stand, and that means the PT,” Secco argues.

The professor argues that biggest challenge for the more moderate Haddad is gaining votes among unconventional electorates, which he believes was the reason why he was chosen to replace Lula on the ticket.

“I think he [Haddad] tends to conduct a more conciliatory campaign. But that would contradict the PT’s current platform, which has the harshest tone in recent time. So let’s see how he will manage to balance this moderate image with the harsher tone of the [party’s] platform.”

Swing voters

Professor Maria Socorro Braga argues that, in order to get enough votes to run in the second round of the elections, the PT and allied parties have to design a strategy to respond to a fragmented constituency.

“These are voters who don’t identify as right-wing, left-wing, or center. They say ‘whoever does it better or offers the political conditions to improve my life or at least keep it on the level I have achieved,’ they are what they will tend to endorse,” she says.

“They [the candidates] have to show this [platform] to a volatile constituency.”

This is why the professor points out Manuela D’Ávila’s key role is in the O Povo Feliz de Novo [The People Happy Again] alliance.

“Today, it’s the female vote that is preventing [right-wing candidate Jair] Bolsonaro from going beyond the rates he has reached. It seems like he reached a limit. So [to appeal to] Haddad and Manuela voters – and she is key for this alliance –, they have to have strong focus on female voters,” he adds.

A voting intention poll released by Datafolha on Monday showed that Jair Bolsonaro is struggling to gain votes among the poor, voters with lower levels of education, and women.

Edition: Diego Sartorato