Final polls on Sunday put Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff slightly ahead of her challenger in the country’s runoff presidential election. But support for the more liberal Aécio Neves has surged since the first voting round earlier this month, reflecting many especially middle class and wealthy Brazilians’ disillusionment with the incumbent Workers’ Party president’s inability to deliver higher growth and better public services.
Neves, a senator and former state governor from the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party, came in second in the first voting round, with 33.6 percent support against 42 percent for Rousseff, kicking the environmentalist Marina Silva from the Socialist Party out of the race.
Despite Silva’s endorsement of Neves, Socialist Party supporters appear split between the two remaining candidates. Especially in the rural north, poorer voters are expected to back Rousseff whose party leveraged an economic boom during its twelve years in power to lift over thirty million Brazilians from poverty.
While Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, Lula da Silva, was in power, soaring commodity exports to China helped the economy grow more than 4 percent per year on average.
It dipped into recession last quarter and is now on track to grow less than 2 percent by the end of Rousseff’s term in December. Structural reforms to improve Brazil’s competitiveness have stalled. Taxes are burdensome and infrastructure investments have been lackluster.
Hence the support for Neves in the richer southern provinces where voters yearn for a more reformist government that will deliver higher growth and better education, health care and security.
However, to beat Rousseff, Neves needs to expand his support into the new Brazilian middle class that has benefited the most from Lula’s Bolsa Família social welfare program. Rousseff’s camp has persuaded many voters that Neves would get rid of the program. He insists he wouldn’t but the Brazilian Social Democracy Party is still seen in the poorer parts of Brazil as the party of the elite and therefore untrustworthy.