Lula da Silva (L) and Jair Bolsonaro.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (L) and Jair Bolsonaro. (AP)


LatAm in Focus: Kingmakers and Key Issues in Brazil's Lula-Bolsonaro Showdown

By Luisa Leme

Quaest pollster Felipe Nunes and John Hopkins’ Beatriz Rey cover the role of swing votes, social media, and secret budgets in October’s elections.

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Felipe Nunes

Two familiar names are battling to lead Brazil, as former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and President Jair Bolsonaro lead the polls ahead of the October 2 first-round vote. This marks the first time in the country’s history that the top two candidates for president already had the job and are asking for another chance. And voters will try to decide which of the two can get Brazil back on the right economic track. “What people are looking for is for someone who can actually fix the economy,” says Felipe Nunes, CEO of Quaest polling firm, in a conversation with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme.

Nunes explains that the swing voting bloc that can make or break Lula’s wide advantage or give Bolsonaro a second-round recovery is the evangelical vote—a growing group in Brazil. Nunes identifies key Southeast swing states to watch: Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Low-income women, he notes, can also play an important role, having backed both Lula and Bolsonaro in the past.

While the latest Quaest poll has Lula with 44 percent of voter intention against 31 percent for Bolsonaro, the incumbent gained ground recently thanks in part to a package of social benefits dispensed to the poorest Brazilians.

Still, the president “shoots himself in the foot” when he attacks democratic institutions, says Nunes, adding: “The voters that he can conquer with the benefits created by the government are the same ones who don't like institutional instability.” The August Quaest poll shows that 83 percent of voters say Bolsonaro, who has taken steps to cast doubt on electoral processes, should recognize the election results.

“What people are looking for is for someone who can actually fix the economy." —Felipe Nunes

Beatriz Rey

But the presidential seat isn’t the only post up for grabs in October. Brazilians will also choose all 27 governors, a third of the senate, and 513 representatives in the lower house. How these elections play out will be important for the next head of state, given an increasingly powerful—albeit fragmented—Congress and a shifting relationship between the legislative and executive branches. For example, Bolsonaro didn’t adopt the usual coalition-building behavior that has been the traditional centerpiece of lawmaking in Brazilian politics, explains Beatriz Rey, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University SNF Agora Institute and senior researcher at the Center for Studies on the Brazilian Congress at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Amid this change in checks and balances, Rey explains that it is hard to predict the congressional composition as well as the dynamics between the executive and legislative after the vote. “It will depend on who the president's going to be and who the speaker of the chamber is going to be.”

Executive Producer Luisa Leme produced this episode.

The music in this podcast was “Sarará” by Yamandu Costa performed for Americas Society. Learn more about upcoming concerts at