By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As the presidential campaigns hit the airwaves of Brazil’s national TV channels, the opinion polls for the upcoming Presidential elections took a dramatic turn, indicating a sharp lead for Dilma Rousseff, while her rival José Serra‘s campaign struggles to stay close.
The recent poll conducted by Vox Populi has placed Dilma ahead of Serra by as much as 29 points, the margin now higher than the percentage of voter intentions for Serra himself, and Dilma has been enjoying over fifty percent of the nation’s support. This also means she could be elected without the need for a run-off round, for the first time in Brazil since 1998, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso won in the first round with 53 percent of the votes.
The dramatic change in voter intentions, which had Dilma and Serra closely tied during the initial stages of official campaigning, underlines the power of television and radio in Brazil, which since August 17th have been airing free advertising for the candidates, sharply increasing their exposure.
The national network’s electoral programming, as mandated by law, has clearly benefited Dilma. Unknown to many before the campaigning began, she has now established herself as the clear successor to the buoyant legacy of current President Luiz Inacío Lula da Silva, aligning directly with him on the television slots that shut down normal programming daily.
The majority of this fresh wave of support comes from the Northeast, where Pernambuco-born President Lula also enjoys immense popularity, as well as the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. It means that Serra’s popularity has nosedived, while Marina Silva maintains her share of the intended votes at around ten percent.
Any change of heart by former governor of São Paulo Serra’s supporters may be traced to the widespread perception that Dilma’s electoral programming evokes more confidence in voters that under her leadership the country will stay the course. Serra’s programming has been criticized for focusing too much on specific issues such as public health, and his efforts to raise questions about Dilma’s lack of experience as a leader have proved ineffective.
The latest numbers also note the curious fact that around five percent of people polled still intend to vote for the ineligible President Lula, who is not a candidate having served two terms as the president. The door does, of course, remain open for him to return in four years time.
Lula was greeted with great enthusiasm at a recent rally in Salvador, Bahia, but the crowd failed to maintain the same level of interest as Dilma began speaking, and the stage host had to interrupt twice to direct to the people to chant “Dilma” instead of “Lula”.
Incidents such as this reinforce the conceptions that Dilma lacks Lula’s charisma and natural leadership ability, raising fears in her camp that, if elected, she will be vulnerable to demands from her allies, and be unable to effectively maintain the diverse coalition of multiple parties as successfully as Lula has.
If elected, Dilma will bear the weight of enormous public expectation, coupled with the inherent challenges of leading one of the biggest and most dynamic countries in the world.