The last edition of World Report focused on the state of right-wing populist parties in Europe, concluding that while some have recently gained ground, their odds of long-term growth are contingent on differences in culture, institutions, and socioeconomic situations between the various countries.
Italy, for instance, has proven far more cogent to the right’s rise than the United Kingdom. There, the center-right coalition spearheaded by Fratelli d’Italia and Giorgia Meloni predictably won the August 25th elections, taking majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. In the UK, meanwhile, nationalist parties like Reform UK (Brexit Party) and UKIP have simply not been able to compete in earnest.
While England’s historical stability and political consistency set it apart from some of its European counterparts, like Italy, social scientists fiercely debate whether certain countries are more prone to the development and normalization of fringe politics than others. Those arguments go beyond the scope of this article, but should still be studied independently.
This week’s edition will bring the focus out of Europe and into South America, where Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro heads one of the world’s most well-known regimes. Given the political right’s recent success in Sweden, Italy, and South Korea, some observers are wondering if President Bolsonaro can secure a second term and contribute to a global streak.
More humble onlookers doubt the incumbent’s chances and hesitate to extrapolate conclusions regarding global right-wing momentum due to geographic and sociopolitical differences between countries. After all, the political left has posted some notable victories of its own as of late.
In the last year, for instance, Australia’s Labor and Germany’s SPD came to power after droughts lasting over a decade.* Perhaps more poignantly, given today’s focus on Brazil, Latin America in general has been the scene of an ostensible pink tide. The latest winners on the left include Gabriel Boric (Chile), Pedro Castillo (Peru), and Gustavo Petro (Colombia). With that background information cleared up, let’s break down the dynamics of today’s presidential election in more detail.
*The Ampel Coalition (SPD, Greens, FDP); the last majority Liberal government in Australia was in 2007*
A BRIEF HISTORY
To understand the rise of Jair Bolsonaro and the rightward transformation of his Social Liberal Party, one must first grapple with the administration of Luiz Lula da Silva “Lula” of the Workers’ Party. Although he was widely regarded as one of the most popular politicians on earth at the end of his second term in 2010, Lula’s political career actually started inauspiciously.
Lula’s poverty-stricken childhood and adolescent involvement with organized labor made him a perfect fit for the Workers’ Party, a catch-all for left-wing politicos ready for a change after decades of military dictatorship. In 1989, Lula lost Brazil’s first post-dictatorship presidential contest to Fernando Collor of the National Reconstruction Party.
He represented the Workers’ Party again in the 1994 and 1998 elections, failing to force Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PDSB) below the runoff threshold on both occasions. Lula’s stardom began in 2002, when he was elected in a landslide over PDSB’s José Serra as a result of voter fatigue and economic uncertainty. This contest temporarily cemented the rivalry between PT and PDSB.
2007 saw Lula win reelection against Geraldo Alckmin, a prominent member of the PDSB, in another lopsided second round. Despite the global economic turmoil brought on by the 2008 crash, Brazil managed to hold up surprisingly well – hence the popularity Lula enjoyed at the end of his stint in office.
Residual goodwill toward Lula and the Workers’ Party (PT) allowed Dilma Rousseff to win the second rounds of the 2010 and 2014 elections against capable PDSB candidates. Her luck ran out in 2016, when she was impeached following charges of “criminal administrative” misconduct.
All of these developments set the stage for the 2018 general election, giving Bolsonaro, a federal deputy, the opportunity to mount a successful campaign based on the normalization of a new type of right-wing politics. He began the election season by leaving the Social Christian Party (PSC) for the Social Liberal Party (PSL), moving it away from social liberalism and toward right-wing populism in the process.
Next, Bolsonaro took advantage of disarray among the post-Rousseff Workers’ Party to bolster his own momentum. Two major factors contributed to his successful appeal to Brazil’s right-of-center electorate. The first was former President Lula da Silva’s inability to join the campaign because of corruption charges. The second was the staggering unpopularity of placeholder President Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (MDB).
These separate elements culminated in Bolsonaro’s 10 point victory in the second round against Workers’ Party nominee Fernando Haddad of São Paulo. On a more interesting note, the first round of this presidential election actually ended the long rivalry between PT and PDSB. The once-mainstream right-of-center party, championed in 2018 by Alckmin, finished with just under 5% of the initial vote.
THE 2022 CAMPAIGN
Since the latter half of 2019, Bolsonaro has had to deal with declining approval ratings and an increasingly-emboldened Workers’ Party opposition. The public’s discontent with his administration has grown since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, ebbing and flowing in the months since. Since roughly the same point in time, Lula has lead Bolsonaro in first-round surveys for the 2022 presidential election.
Like that of the last presidential election, this cycle’s campaign has witnessed its fair share of political strife and intersectional violence, including multiple murders. Perhaps more concerning for the international community, though, have been Bolsonaro’s repeated allegations of election fraud and irregularities associated with electronic voting machines.
While Brazil’s electoral court (TSE) has fought hard against web-based disinformation since 2018, outside observers fear that Bolsonaro’s comments doubting the validity of the election could be used as a pretext to refuse acceptance of a loss through the incitement of a military coup. Despite observers’ continuing doubts, the incumbent has officially indicated his willingness to oversee a proper transition should his reelection bid fail.
Although the rolling polling average strongly suggests that former president Lula da Silva (PT) is a favorite against Bolsonaro, who is now the Liberal Party’s (PL) candidate, the numbers do not indicate that he will exceed the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff. Historical evidence also supports this assumption, considering Lula won both of his previous presidential elections in the second round.
Based on available second round surveys, Split Ticket would consider Lula a comfortable favorite to beat Bolsonaro in an October 30th runoff. It is possible, if not probable, that the current double-digit average lead for the Workers’ Party will decline, but it is still difficult to see a clear path to victory for the incumbent barring a major polling error. LIKELY LULA DA SILVA
My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.
Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or firstname.lastname@example.org