Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff effective television campaign seems to have eroded Marina Silva’s lead in the polls that the opposition candidate enjoyed two weeks ago and turned the race into a dead heat. The ads remind tens of millions of voters who have been lifted from poverty by social welfare programs that they could still slip backward.
If families earning 1,448 reais (US$ 612) or less give Rousseff the same level of support they gave her in 2010, she should win the election, according to Mauro Paulino, managing director at polling agency DataFolha.
“This attempt to show Marina as a threat to achievements should prevail until the end of the campaign to keep voters faithful, keep them voting for Dilma,” Paulino explained. “The (ruling) Workers’ Party ads have to convince that group the safer change is to maintain Dilma.”
Polls indicate the ads have helped Rousseff narrow the gap. A survey of 3,010 people released last week by Ibope Inteligência showed Rousseff trails Silva in a likely runoff by three percentage points, whereas Silva led by nine in a poll released August 27. Social Democratic Senator Aécio Neves is polling third with 19% in the first round.
Rousseff’s support among those earning 1,448 Reais or less rose to 47% from 40% in that period, while Silva’s support fell to 37% from 39%. Rousseff had 56% support from that group in the final poll before the 2010 election. However 16% remain either unsure, are voting blank, nullifying their vote or didn’t respond to the poll.
Silva’s poor, rural background is akin to that of Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, Lula da Silva. After the criticism began, Marina invoked the declaration “hope conquered fear” he made after triumphing over attacks in 2002.
“Every day there is an ad telling a lie, saying I will do a truckload of terrible things to Brazilians,” Silva said in a question-and-answer session on Facebook. “They know no limits.”
In a television ad that started airing last week, Silva recounts in a choked-up voice how she and her family faced hunger when she was a child living in the Amazon forest. “All my mother had for eight children was one egg, a little flour and salt with some chopped up onion peel,” she said, adding that it’s a lie she would cut social welfare programs.
The Ibovespa stock index dropped 6.2% two weeks ago, the most since May 2012, when polls showed Silva lost her lead in the second round. Last week, with surveys indicating the race stabilizing, the Ibovespa climbed 2.5%.
Rousseff has reached a point at which additional gains become more difficult, João Augusto de Castro Neves, an analyst with political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group, pointed out.
Still, Eurasia sees Rousseff, whose larger coalition in Congress gives her six times more free minutes on television than Silva in the first-round campaign, as the slight favorite to win.
The ads aren’t personal attacks on Silva but rather criticisms of her program that would mean dismantling industry and outsourcing jobs, according to Rui Falcão, president of the Workers’ Party.
“When people learn about her proposals, that’s what should intimidate them – we’re not trying to stimulate fear of anyone,” Falcão, who is coordinating Rousseff’s campaign, told reporters in Sao Paulo last week.
“Every day we show what we’re going to do and point out the risks of a program that would mean going backward.”