Brazil shows why campaigns matter
Elections are about people, not just policy and parties.

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Article Highlights

  • The Brazilian people appear to be in the process of deciding whether it is Silva’s judgment, and not that of one of her rivals, that they trust.

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  • Marina Silva would make for a formidable run-off candidate as well, polling, for now, at 45 percent versus Rousseff’s 36 percent.

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  • A former Workers' Party environmental minister and a born-again Christian, Silva has made the Socialist Party's numbers go up rapidly.

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Serious people often claim that media coverage of political campaigns is overly focused on horse races, personal anecdotes, faux scandals and other distractions that bear no relation to the important public policy questions of the day. This is silly. All of these things are important. There is no reason why voters should not focus on them. The leaders of the polity are not automata that come with algorithmic decision-making powers, pre-programmed machines with predictable responses to all eventualities; they are human beings with their own biases and principles, flaws and strengths, experiences and notions of morality.

Fortunately, the public at large understands these things.

A great example of this understanding came to the forefront this week in Brazil, which will hold a general election in October. The most important race in this election cycle is the presidential election, which will determine whether incumbent president Dilma Rousseff, Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party successor, gets to serve a second term. She faces two principal opponents: center-right candidate Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party and, surprisingly, pro-life socialist with capitalist advisers Marina Silva.

Why is the threat coming from the latter opponent a surprise? Well, because she wasn’t even a candidate two weeks ago. Until August 13, she was the running-mate of Eduardo Campos, who died tragically in a plane crash. At the time, Rousseff was polling at 38 percent of the (first-round) vote, Neves was at 23 percent and Campos at 9 percent. Rousseff was looking at a comfortable first-round win and would have probably defeated Neves in the run-off that ensues if no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round.

All of this changed when Silva, generally seen as a stronger candidate than the man she succeeded – she received 19 percent of the vote last time around, when she represented the Green Party – became the Socialist Party candidate. A former Workers' Party environmental minister and a born-again Christian, Silva has made the Socialist Party's numbers go up rapidly, and she is now polling at 29 percent (versus 34 percent for Rousseff and 19 percent for Neves). She would make for a formidable run-off candidate as well, polling, for now, at 45 percent versus Rousseff’s 36 percent.

This staggering turnaround isn’t directly driven by sudden current events that relate to party platforms and policy prescriptions. Instead, the Brazilian people appear to be in the process of deciding whether it is Silva’s judgment, and not that of one of her rivals, that they trust. Good for them.

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