Jailed Lula leads Brazil's presidential polls

BY Júlia Ledur

Published August 16, 2018

image description

Lula is carried by crowd of supporters in front of the Metalworkers Trade Union in São Bernardo do Campo right before he turns himself in to the Federal Police on April 7, 2018. (Francisco Proner/REUTERS)

On Wednesday, Brazil’s Workers’ Party officially named former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has been in jail since April, as its presidential candidate. Lula was sentenced to 12 years and one month of jail for money laundering and passive corruption charges.

Surprisingly, even though Lula is currently arrested, he leads presidential polls of October’s elections with more than 30 percent support when included as a candidate. His support level is more than right-wing Jair Bolsonaro’s and centrist Marina Silva’s summed together.

In fact, not only Brazilians are willing to vote for him, but they also approve his actions. Da Silva’s popularity is reflected in the Barômetro Político Estadão-Ipsos, a monthly poll that measures the approval rates of political personalities, published by the newspaper Estadão in partnership with the research institute Ipsos.

In July 2018, his approval rate was 45%, whereas President Michel Temer’s was only 3%. Ever since Lula’s arrest, his approval rate has increased 3 percent and his disapproval rate has dropped 1 percent. A small increase in his approval rate is also notable after Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in August 2016.

Lula's popularity
over the past two years

The former president's approval rate grew 16% in the last year

image description
SOURCE: Barômetro Político Estadão-Ipsos

Why is Lula so popular?

Da Silva’s undeniably increasing popularity over the past two years raises the question: what makes him so popular? How do his approval and disapproval rates correlate to major political events that have taken place in Brazil?

There is not a clear answer. But generally, when a right-wing politician was accused of wrongdoings, arrested or a major political crisis exploded under Temer’s government, Lula’s approval rates increased and disapproval rates declined. For instance, in September 2017, when one of Temer’s Ministry and Joesley Batista were arrested (the latter in a corruption scandal involving the President), Lula’s approval rate grew in 8 percent.

However, the opposite is not a rule. In the majority of times when the Workers’ Party was involved in political scandals, the former President’s approval rates actually rose. After Rousseff’s impeachment, Lula saw a 2 percent increase in his approval rates. When Da Silva was accused of corruption charges as well as when he was sentenced to 9 years in prison and arrested, his popularity level also grew.

The only times when his popularity rates shrunk while he was involved in political scandals were in May 2017, when he testified in a five-hour hearing with Federal judge Sérgio Moro, and in January 2018, when his sentence was increased to 12 years.

How major political events in Brazil
affected Lula's popularity

Lula's approval rate has increased significantly since he was sentenced to prison in August 2017

image description

SOURCE: Barômetro Político Estadão-Ipsos

October's elections

Lula’s popularity has been echoing in presidential polls. According to the most recent one, published by the research institute Datafolha, Lula has the highest support rate by far, 39 percent, followed by Jair Bolsonaro, with 19 percent.

It is still uncertain if Lula’s candidacy will be blocked, although chances that he is vetoed of running are high. Hours after his application filing on Wednesday, the prosecutor general filed a petition to challenge Lula’s candidacy. Now, Brazil’s electoral court should decide on Lula’s political fate within the next three weeks.

If he is barred from running, there are two possible scenarios: one where Fernando Haddad, former mayor of São Paulo and Lula’s vice presidential nominee, is named the party’s candidate, and another with no candidate from the Workers’ Party. What will happen depends directly on how fast Brazil’s electoral court (TSE) decides if Lula is eligible to run or not, since the deadline to name a new candidate is September 17.

Presidential poll data from August

The poll shows two possible election scenarios, one of them with Lula as a candidate

image description
SOURCE: Datafolha

What Lula says

Lula is prohibited to record videos or audio interviews from jail, so he has been communicating with his supporters through letters. Recently, one of them, entitled “There Is a Right-Wing Coup Underway in Brazil”, was published in the Opinion section of The New York Times.

In the essay, he has denied wrongdoing and claimed to be a victim of government “right-wing forces.” “Millions of Brazilians understand that my jailing has nothing to do with corruption, and they understand that I am where I am merely for political reasons,” he wrote.

“According to the Brazilian Constitution, the power comes from the people, who elect their representatives. So let the Brazilian people decide. I have faith that justice will prevail, but time is running against democracy”.

Only time will tell if Lula’s words will be heard and what will be the effect of his fate on his popularity rates, once the intensity of the electoral period fades away.