Brazilian elections

What explains the difference between the surveys and Brazil’s presidential election result?

False declarations by respondents on who to vote and the so-called “shamed vote” may influence analysis

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (Brasil) |
Bolsonaro always said to his supporters to not believe in opinion poll institutes. As a consequence, these voters withdraw from voting intention surveys - Ricardo Stuckert e Agência Brasil

The presidential voting intention surveys showed different results from those shown in the ballots this Sunday (2). Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party) had 48.4% of the votes, and Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party) 43.2%. Simone Tebet (Brazilian Democratic Movement) had 4.2%, and Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party) had 3%. Together, the other candidates scored less than 2% of the votes. 

Continua após publicidade

One of the factors that can explain the difference is that a big part of the voters chooses a candidate on the day of the voting. According to a survey by Datafolha conducted a few days before Brazil’s 2018 presidential election, 12% of the voters decided their candidates on the day of the voting. These votes are not considered in the surveys, which distances them from the electoral result.

Continua após publicidade

In this year’s elections, however, researchers stated that another factor may be the explanation for the difference in results. João Feres Júnior, a political scientist at the Social and Political Institute from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ, in Portuguese) and coordinator of Manchetômetro (a press coverage tracking site for economics and politics), says that the main difference between the voting intention and what was shown by the electronic voting machines can be explained by Bolsonaro voters since the main news is the percentage of votes he received and that was not covered by the surveys. 

Continua após publicidade

“The only difference was found in Bolsonaro’s voting intention. In Lula's voting intention, the polls were right within and close to the margin of error”, he states. "I think the only possible answer to this, despite being a hypothesis, is that Bolsonaro voters are aloof from polls. That is, they avoid answering polls or, when they do so, they declare false information". The thing, says Feres Júnior, was “to capture the preference for Bolsonaro”.

Continua após publicidade

:: Editorial: October 2 is Brazil’s most important day since the country’s return to democracy ::

To explain this difference, some analysts have been using the theory of the so-called “shamed vote”. The thesis of the German political scientist Noelle-Neumann in her book The Spiral of Silence is that the perception that a certain candidate has an advantage leads voters to actually vote for that candidate, but this vote is not revealed in the voting intention polls.

According to Márcio Moretto, coordinator of the Monitor of Political Debate in the Digital Environment at the University of São Paulo (USP, in Portuguese), “the cases studied by the German researcher were polls that, although with very close percentages, showed an obvious tendency among the electorate’s perception of who would win the election. In these cases, the vote skewed towards the "favorite" candidate well above the margin of error of the electoral surveys”, he says.

“See, the polls get it wrong not because people lied or failed to answer them, but because part of the voters was ashamed to publicly defend their vote. That had a last-minute impact.”

However, according to this thesis, the result got by former president Lula could be bigger than what was surveyed. However, what probably happened was a “minuscule effort [by the Workers’ Party campaign] to get people out onto the streets at times when it might make sense”, says Moretto. Also, he mentions “Lula's exaggeratedly cautious stance in the debates”, a stance that was left aside only in the last debate, on TV Globo. “The bet was on a strategy of 'winning still'", says the Moretto.

“Inspired by Neumann's work, Bolsonaro's online campaign focused on discrediting research institutes and convincing people to trust what they see on the streets and social media platforms. The strategy worked. Bolsonaro sent a message to his base of voters at the beginning of the year: 'I don't believe in polls'. That's it, his base didn't answer any more surveys and his name shrank in the surveys", says Moretto.

Ciro Gomes’ performance

Some political scientists also highlight the migration of votes from Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party) to Jair Bolsonaro in the first round due to Ciro’s behavior of attacking former president Lula and the Workers’ Party in an attempt to get the votes of Bolsonaro supporters. 

“On September 28, we showed Lula with 51% of the voting intention, Bolsonaro with 36%, [Simone] Tebet 5%, and Ciro 7%. On October 1st, we released another survey in which Lula was falling, with 49%, and Bolsonaro was increasing, at 38%. That is, the last-minute tendency was already [of voting intention percentages] getting closer", explains in an interview with UOL Felipe Nunes, director of Quaest Consultoria.

“Lula ended up with 48%, within the margin of error. However, Bolsonaro had 43%. That means he increased by five percentage points. Where does this vote come from? Approximately 3 percentage points for Ciro migrated to Bolsonaro. The stance Ciro adopted in the final stretch of the campaign was decisive for the kind of message he made for voters", said Nunes.

:: In the Chamber of Deputies, women occupy less than 18% of the seats; Black people occupy 26% ::

The abovementioned opinion is the same as that of Mayra Goulart, professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ, in Portuguese) and the Graduate Program in Social Sciences (PPGCS, in Portuguese) at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ, in Portuguese).

“As a far-right candidate, Bolsonaro tends to use fake news and attacks towards his opponents in the final moments of the campaign. This causes voters on the right-wing spectrum that don’t know for who to vote to end up focusing on him [Bolsonaro]. In this sense, Ciro Gomes’ ‘useful votes’ went to Bolsonaro,” she says, in an interview with Jornal Brasil Atual.

But there are disagreements. To João Feres Júnior, there is no proof that this actually occurred. “It's a guess because the same polls when asking Ciro voters who they would vote for in a second round between Lula and Bolsonaro heard from most of these voters that they would vote for Lula. The same applies to Simone Tebet voters. Therefore, it is not true that the deflation that occurred in Ciro [votes] migrated to Bolsonaro [total votes]. I don’t believe it,” he says.

Survey results

The results differ from those of the survey by the Brasmarket Institute, released on the Friday (30) before the election. In the spontaneous poll, when the names of the candidates are not presented to the interviewees, Bolsonaro had 44.3% of the voting intention against 27.6% for Lula. Ciro had 3.8% and Tebet, 3.2%.

They also diverge from the survey released by Veritá Institute in the last week before the election. In the spontaneous survey, Bolsonaro had 47.3%, Lula had 44.7%, Ciro Gomes had 3.4% and Tebet had 3.1%.

A survey by Instituto Equilíbrio Brasil, released on September 28, showed Bolsonaro with 46%, against 41% for Lula. Ciro and Simone had 5% and 4%, respectively, also in a spontaneous survey.

:: Bolsonaro government blocks another R$ 1 billion from education and may paralyze universities ::

The three polls were widely publicized by Bolsonarist networks for placing the current Brazilian president ahead of former president Lula. But it was not just these surveys that presented different rates from those achieved at the polls.

In the survey by Ipec (Intelligence in Strategic Research and Consulting), formerly Ibope, released on Saturday, the day before the election, Lula had 51% of the valid votes and Bolsonaro 37%. Ciro and Tebet were tied with 5%. In the Datafolha poll, Lula had 50% of the valid votes, against 36% for Bolsonaro. Tebet had 6% and Ciro had 5%.

In the survey carried out by Quaest, Lula had 49% of voting intention, followed by Bolsonaro (38%), Ciro (6%), and Tebet (5%). Similarly, in the Paraná Pesquisas poll released on the Friday before the election, Lula had 43.9%, Bolsonaro had 37.3%, Tebet had 5.8%, and Ciro Gomes scored 4.9%.

Bolsonaro’s jump

According to Mayra Goulart, even if the result of the elections had some difference compared to the surveys, they are within the range of results surveyed. “State results were quite wrong, but small samples are more likely to be wrong because they make a national prospection of something into a regional prospection”, she says.

In the Senate election in the state of São Paulo, all voting intention polls showed Márcio França (Brazilian Socialist Party), from former president Lula’s coalition, ahead of Marcos Pontes (Liberal Party), a Bolsonaro ally. On the Saturday before the election (1st), Pontes had 31% of voting intention against 43% for França, according to the Ipec survey. However, Marcos Pontes was elected senator with 49.91% of the votes. França followed, with 35.9%.

In the election for the government of São Paulo state, former mayor Fernando Haddad (Workers’ Party) led the voting intention with 39%, while Tarcísio de Freitas (Republicans) had 31%, according to data from Datafolha also released on Saturday. With 100% of votes counted by the Regional Electoral Court (TRE, in Portuguese), however, Tarcísio had 42.3% of the votes and Haddad 35.7%.

The increase in Bolsonaro's votes, which was not captured by the polls, also reinforced the Bolsonarist agenda in the National Congress. President Jair Bolsonaro’s party, the Liberal Party, elected the largest caucus in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. In total, 99 federal deputies from the Liberal Party were elected, an increase of 23 congressmen compared to the current legislature. In the Senate, eight senators were elected, adding up to 13 congressmen to the House. With this, the Liberal Party will have 112 parliamentarians in the National Congress.

Composition of the Chamber by gender

Cisgender men, transgender men, cisgender women, transgender women, non-binary people

Source: Chamber of Deputies

Edited by: Flávia Chacon e Rodrigo Durão Coelho