So, Brazil voted in the first round of their Presidential elections this past Sunday and the results weren't exactly good news. (I mean, I suppose that depends on your point of view- some people might consider them to be very good news indeed- it's just that in general, I don't. I can understand why the results were the way they were, it doesn't mean I have to do a cartwheel and clap my hands about them either.) So what went down?
Hardline conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro took 46.03% of the vote and his main opponent Fernando Hadded took 29.28 percent of the vote. They're now heading into a runoff set for October 28th. So why is Bolsonaro bad news? Well, John Oliver did a pretty good rundown on the guy on Last Week Tonight that's worth watching. Glen Greenwald over at The Intercept did an excellent run down as well. It's very, very easy to get caught up in comparisons with President Trump- calling the guy 'The Tropical Trump' or 'Trump of the Tropics' looks good on a cable new chyron, but it's not at all accurate. He's closer to Filipino President Rodrigo Duerte and his military background and apparent fondness for a military dictatorship that brutalized Brazil for two decades make him very worrying indeed.
While his racism, homophobia and misogyny are again, easy targets for cable news up in America- and are obviously deplorable, those aren't the factors driving his rise. As with President Trump, you can't rule the nasty motivational factors out of the equation, but as Greenwald points out in his piece- this is yet another failure of an Establishment that's all too eager to blame anyone but themselves- which, given the massive corruption scandal that's been unfolding down in Brazil, it's pretty easy to understand why folks down there aren't exactly warming to Establishment candidates at the moment. People want someone to burn it all down and Bolsonaro is apparently their guy.
Now, up here in the United States where we've been trucking along with our democracy for a couple of hundred years now* without any history of military intervention, a 'burn it all down' candidate might well offend the sensibilities of the Establishment and 'polite society' but down there in Brazil, where democracy has been a going concern for thirty three years, a 'burn it all down' kind of guy raises some serious concern that democracy can be put on a shelf and an authoritarian dictatorship can do the job better. That's not good news for the world's fourth largest democracy.
If there's one event that probably ended up helping Bolsonaro in a weird way, it was probably getting stabbed at the beginning of September. He was present for the first two presidential debates in August, but he's been absent for the five after that. (Also: holy shit that's a lot of debates.) The stabbing effectively kept him out of the debates and off the campaign trails, but you can bet that people were talking about it and there was plenty of media coverage of his recovery. Essentially, he earned a lot of media without a lot of the scrutiny- and also, denied himself opportunities to step on various landmines along the way. Turns out there's an unexpected upside to being stabbed, after all.
But here's the other thing: I haven't done the deepest of dives into the data, but I don't think the stabbing was the precipitating event that launch Bolsonaro on his upward trajectory: it was the absence of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva from the race. He was disqualified from running- and this poll tracker from Datafolha tells a two very different tales. Without Lula, you see Bolsonaro continue his upward trajectory in the polls- there's not even a real spike after he was stabbed in the beginning of September. With Lula, Bolsonaro tops out at 19% and doesn't get much higher than that.
Which brings us back around to Fernando Haddad and the very bad math:
Haddad finished 16.75% back from Bolsonaro. That translates to roughly 17 million votes or so that he somehow needs to find in the next two weeks. It gets easier, because everybody else on that long-ass list right there is now out of the picture. If you add up everybody else's vote share and tack them you get 24.69% and if it all swings to Haddad it should put him over the top with 53.97%. (The vote share total for all the rest is about 26 million votes.) That's still a hell of a swing to count on- I'm not sure- because primarily I'm not in Brazil so I don't really have a good idea of what's going on 'on the ground' as it were- but I don't think you'll see what happened in France when the LePens got through to their respective seconds rounds happen here. I could be wrong- maybe everyone will close ranks against Bolsonaro and Haddad will wrap this up no problem. But I also think that if he is (as John Oliver seemed to indicate) running as a Diet Lula, as it were that might be a problem to an electorate pissed off about a massive corruption scandal, insanely high crime rates and coming off of the worst recession it's seen ever.
(But what the hell do I know? I'm not in Brazil.)
Here's the bad news in all of this: every time Brazil has gone to a runoff, whomever has won the first round ends up winning the second round and thus, the whole damn thing. Haddad's 16.75% gap after the first round isn't even the largest on record: that honor goes to Jose Serra in 2002, who finished 23.25% back from Lula da Silva after the first round of that election. 2006 and 2014 had the narrowest gaps, with 6.77% and 8.04% separating the top two candidates after the first round. But 2006 is kind of a red herring: Lula ended up blowing Alckmin out of the water in the second round, taking 60.83% of the vote compared to 39.17%. (That's right, Alckmin somehow managed to lose votes between the first and second rounds.)
So really, we have to look to 2014 if we want something to hang out hats on. The gap after the first round was 8.04% between then President Dilma Rousseff and Aecio Neves... it narrowed to 3.28% in the final results. Neves managed to pick up 16 million new votes between the first two rounds. It wasn't enough, because President Rousseff picked up 11 million votes of her own. (Neves is actually a pretty colorful character.)
In short, the patterns seen in Brazilian elections aren't good news for Haddad. Not only does he have to close the gap in two weeks, he's got to pass Bolsonaro. If he manages it, it'll be the first time in the history of Brazil's democracy that the candidate who lost in the first round came back to win in the second round. Candidates can lose votes between the first and second rounds- that's been done before, so there's always the hope that Bolsonaro proves to be his own worst enemy, but Haddad has a huge gap to close and not a lot of time to do it in.
I hope I'm wrong, but at this point it seems like Bolsonaro's to lose.
*Yes, our democracy started with a limited franchise and it's barely one hundred years into a dictionary definition of universal suffrage and really only five-six decades into real actual universal suffrage if you really want to get nitpicky about it.