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Landmark Brazil Poll Brings Good News for Rousseff

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff attends the wake of late Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos inside the Pernambuco Government Palace in Recife, Aug. 17, 2014.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff attends the wake of late Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos inside the Pernambuco Government Palace in Recife, Aug. 17, 2014.

Although a new poll shows Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff suddenly facing a tougher road to re-election, she also saw a sharp recovery in her approval ratings and resilient voter support through what will likely be the campaign's most emotional and volatile period.

The first poll since the death in a plane crash last week of Brazilian Socialist Party presidential candidate Eduardo Campos was released early Monday, showing Rousseff in a statistical dead heat in the event of a runoff against Campos' likely replacement, environmentalist Marina Silva.

Brazilian financial markets gained following the poll, which seemed to rule out any chance that Rousseff could avoid a runoff and win the election outright on October 5.

Most investors do not like Rousseff's left-leaning policies and markets have generally risen in recent months with each sign that she might not win a second term.

Yet there were several strong signs in Rousseff's favor within the nationwide survey by pollster Datafolha, and Brazil's currency and main stocks index gave up some of their early gains as investors looked closely at the poll numbers.

The percentage of voters who say Rousseff's government is “good” or “great” rose to 38 percent, up six percentage points from the previous Datafolha poll in July. Those who said it was “bad” or “terrible” dropped six points to 23 percent, while those rating it as “OK” was unchanged at 38 percent.

“As incredible as it may sound, the poll shows that Rousseff's approval ratings got a considerable boost. And that's actually a more important variable than voter intention at this stage,” said JoIao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.

“After several months of negative news for Rousseff,” he added, “there's finally some good news for her.”

Rousseff's approval ratings recovered during a period that saw inflation slow sharply.

Her term has been plagued by slow economic growth and prices rising at around 6 percent a year. Her opponents have consistently hammered her for being weak on inflation, but July saw a decline in air fares as well as food prices as the soccer World Cup, which Brazil hosted, drew to an end.

Datafolha began taking its most recent poll last Thursday, the day after Campos died in a plane crash.

Brazilian media have since then been full of praise for Campos, a business-friendly former governor who had been in third place in polls with about 8 percent support but was widely seen as one of Brazil's brightest young politicians and likely to mount a strong campaign for president in 2018.

Silva had been Campos' running mate but was much better known nationally, thanks to her high profile as an environmental activist and her strong third place finish as a presidential candidate in the last election in 2010, when she took about 20 percent of the vote.

Can Silva sustain the surge?

Some analysts had expected a stronger showing for Silva in the Datafolha poll following the emotion of Campos' death.

It showed Silva would win 21 percent of votes in first round of voting, just one percentage point ahead of the other main opposition candidate, centrist Senator Aecio Neves, but behind Rousseff, who had 36 percent.

Strikingly, support for Rousseff and Neves in a first round was exactly the same as in polls a month ago.

That means that Silva's growth of 13 percentage points compared to Campos came from voters who had previously said they were undecided or would spoil their ballots in protest, as opposed to her taking votes from the other two main contenders.

In a second round, which analysts say now looks almost certain, the Datafolha poll showed Silva with a 47-43 percent advantage over Rousseff, meaning they are technically tied since the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Some analysts question whether Silva will be able to grow much in polls considering her coalition's relatively weak nationwide presence, comparatively small campaign funds and allotted time for free public TV advertising, as well as her past reputation for unpredictable decisions.

Some members of Campos' Brazilian Socialist Party also doubt Silva's commitment to the party platform, which could provoke some tensions on the campaign trail. Silva, who ran as the Green Party candidate in 2010, has sought to play down those concerns.

Silva tried to found a new party last year called the “Sustainability Network” but failed to register enough signatures in time for the 2014 election. Less than 48 hours later, she surprised the Brazilian political world by backing Campos, whose party platform differed greatly from hers.

Neves and his Brazilian Social Democracy Party have a much stronger nationwide base than the coalition backing a Silva candidacy. But the survey released Monday showed his support slipping in the event of a runoff, breaking a string of at least four polls where he had closed the gap on Rousseff.

The president leads Neves by a 47-39 percent margin in a runoff between them, Datafolha said. The pollsters interviewed 2,843 people in 176 cities on Thursday and Friday.

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