On Sunday 100 million Brazilians turned out to vote for president, members of Congress and state governors. That’s almost certainly more than will vote in our offyear elections next month; the total turnout in 2006 was just over 80 million. The results in Brazil were a little surprising. In the presidential race polls have been showing Dilma Rousseff, former top staffer to President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and his endorsed candidate, running over 50%. That was plausible: Lula’s job rating has been sky high during most of his second term in office. But Dilma (Brazilians invariably refer to her by her first name) fell short of the 50% of the vote needed to win without a runoff. Her 47% leaves her well ahead of second place finisher José Serra, governor of the state of São Paulo and candidate of the PSDB, the party once led by former President (1994-2002) Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who got 33%. In third place was Marina Silva, a champion of the environmental and indigenous people’s movements in the Amazon region and a former Lula appointee; she got 19% of the vote.
Looking over the state by state returns, Dilma got more than 60% in some of Lula’s strongest areas—the state of Amazonas and the northeastern states of Bahia, Pernambuco, Ceará, Piauí and Maranhão. But she fell well short of Lula’s showings in Rio de Janeiro. Marina carried Distrito Federal, the capital city of Brasília and its suburbs, which is by far and away the most affluent and educated of Brazil’s states; she finished a strong second in Rio de Janeiro, with 32% to Dilma’s 44%.
Serra carried São Paulo, by far the largest and most productive state in Brazil, with nearly one-quarter of the population and a larger share of gross domestic product, and the two advanced economy states just to the south, Paraná and Santa Catarina. He also carried Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso, where there have been huge increases in agricultural production—and not by the cutting down of rain forest, but by making grasslands and swamp more productive through the high tech agriculture in which Brazil has been a leader.
My interpretation: Many relatively affluent and well educated Brazilians opted for Marina, out of lack of enthusiasm for either Dilma or Serra (who is not referred to by his first name, because it’s so common). Brazil has been enjoying both great prosperity and a diminution of economic inequality, for which President Lula and President Cardoso both deserve some credit; but some voters may be wondering whether Dilma would take the country too far toward statism. There will be a runoff (segundo turno) on October 31 (not a big holiday in Brazil as it is in the United States and Mexico) and obviously Dilma’s big 47%-33% lead makes her the favorite over Serra. But it’s an interesting phenomenon that in a country unsophisiticated Americans regarded not so long ago (inaccurately) as underdeveloped that relatively affluent and highly educated voters may determine who is the winner.