Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – August 6th was the deadline for all political parties to register their slates of candidates (president and vice president, governor, senator and federal and state deputies) chosen at their nominating conventions; however, all parties still have until August 15th, when election propaganda will begin to inflict itself upon the Brazilian citizenry, to change their minds.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

As of August 6th some 31 political parties registered their slates, but there were only thirteen candidates for President. Most parties have joined coalitions with other parties, but there are five “loners” — mostly heavily ideological “minnows”.

Surprisingly, there are another five parties with only one other in their coalition, even though their presidential candidates are among the front-runners in most polls: Jair Bolsonaro, Marina Silva and Ciro Gomes.

The only candidates who convinced two or more parties for their coalition are former president Lula (two more), Álvaro Dias (three more) and Geraldo Alckmin (eight more).

The numbers are important because Brazilian election law calls for a daily total of fifty minutes of party propaganda, in two 25-minute segments aired on Brazilian open TV and both AM and FM radio. Within each segment, the presidential candidates have 12 minutes and 30 seconds of free air time.

Within the presidential segment the amount of time the candidates receive is determined by how many seats their party or coalition of parties has in the federal chamber of deputies. There are 513 seats total, so a party with only five seats will receive only one percent of the free air time, whereas a coalition with 171 seats will receive 33 percent of the air time.

Doing the math, 12 minutes and 30 seconds corresponds to 750 seconds. One percent of that is only seven seconds of air time, whereas one-third of that is 250 seconds or a whopping 4 minutes and 10 seconds.

Traditional analysis shows that, in all the direct presidential elections since the military relinquished power, the candidates with the most (or the second-most) free air time have won. Pundits this year are wondering whether this will hold true, for two reasons.

First, three of the candidates with the most air time (Geraldo Alckmin, Henrique Meirelles and Álvaro Dias) have so far failed to make a positive impression on voters in polls, whereas three of the current front-runners (Jair Bolsonaro, Marina Silva and Ciro Gomes) will have very little free air time.

The joker in this scenario is former President Lula. He leads in all polls, and his coalition will have a healthy amount of free air time. PT has decided former SP mayor Fernando Haddad will run if Lula is declared ineligible, but Haddad was so unpopular that he could not win re-election as mayor in 2016.

The other reason for doubting the power of free air time is, of course, the internet. More and more Brazilians get their news from the internet, not from radio and TV. Those candidates with little air time are already proclaiming they will dominate the internet. They may be right, but the question then is whether that domination will translate into votes on October 7th.

Much as the Curmudgeon likes to make predictions, he does not have an answer to this question.

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