Brazil election 2010

The only real question in Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil is whether Dilma Rousseff, the candidate of the incumbent Workers Party (PT), will win in one round or two. Two-term Persident Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva, the founder and till now only presidential candidate of the PT, is barred constitutionally from running again.

The congressional elections will be interesting to watch. The PT takes advantage of “presidentialization” and “electoral separation of purpose” about as brilliantly as any party could. It has a now proven record of being able to build one coalition large enough to win national majorities to elect the president, while retaining its niche appeal as a cohesive leftist party in congressional elections. Its president then builds coalitions with other parties in order to govern. These coalitions and governing choices are not always to the congressional party’s liking, but it’s better to not like your president’s choices than not to have the presidency. A party so small could never dominate the executive branch in a parliamentary democracy.

The following graph shows the relationship between presidential and congressional votes of the PT in each congressional district (state) in the 1994-2006 period. Only in a few cases does the PT congressional vote come even close to the presidential vote in that state.

ESP in Brazil's PT

Consider that in 2006, Lula won 49% of the first round vote in his reelection bid, and 61% in the runoff. Yet in the Chamber of Deputies elected the same day as the first round, the PT won 15% of the vote and 83 of the 513 seats. In 2002 it had been similar: Lula won 46% in the first round and 61% in the second, with the PT winning 18% of the Deputies vote and 92 seats.

In fact, the votes of the presidential and congressional “branches” of the PT were negatively correlated in 2006! That is, where Lula gained votes, his party lost votes. He and his party really have learned how to fish in different ponds.

The graph and the references to “presidentialization” and “electoral separation of purpose” come from David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

5 thoughts on “Brazil election 2010

  1. Dilma Rousseff is supported by the PT, PMDB, PCdoB, PDT, PRB, PR, PSB, PSC, PTC, and PTN. In the last Congress, those nine parties held 297 of the 513 seats.

    The PT’s “niche appeal” as a “cohesive leftist party” varies from one state to another. For example, in the last congressional vote, the PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party) was the largest left party in Maranhao, Rio Grande do Norte, Tocantins and Paraíba. The PDT (Democratic Labour Party) was the largest left party in Espirito Santo. Meanwhile, Lula’s coalition depends on the PMDB (Democratic Movement, centre-left) which was the largest party in Goiás, Santa Catarina, Distrito Federal, Tocantins, and Amapa, and the largest of Rousseff’s alliance in Bahia and Ceara. And I’ve likely skipped over several other states.

    Brazilian parties form different electoral alliances in different states, and even for different offices in the same state, that are hard to follow from a distance (and perhaps hard to follow even up close?)

  2. Okay, everyone, drinking glasses at the ready…

    “Indeed, because of Brazil’s complex system of proportional representation, the party was able to use Tiririca’s votes to gain three more seats in Congress…”

    – Lilia M Schwarcz, “Politically Incorrect: Brazil’s Clown-Elect,” The New Yorker (14 October 2010),

    (The irony is that I can get the idea of a list-PR system like Brazil’s – or, a fortiori, like Israel’s – across to first-year politics/ law students in about 2 or 3 minutes. Explaining how the USA’s primaries work, though… now THAT’s a “complex system”).

  3. Sorry, the above went in the wrong Brazil thread.

    But on the topic of electoral separation of purpose, see Alex Massie’s interesting comment on the US mid-terms:

    ‘… in a sense you can argue that the Republican victory this November will be an unearned triumph. But so, in many ways, were the Democratic Congressional gains in 2006 and (to some extent) 2008. This is an unusual feature of American politics: you don’t have to be good or even plausible to do well.

    In most countries elections are a two-question examination in which voters decide if a) the government has failed and b) has the opposition done enough to deserve to be in power. You need two Yes answers to change the government.

    The nature of the mid-term elections mean it’s different in the United States. There, voters conclude that the party sitting in the White House (and, sometimes, Congress) stinks and it doesn’t matter that the other party stinks just as much. Regardless of who controls government, the opposition can learn nothing and do nothing and still do well.

    With the single exception (in recent times) of the 9/11 2002 mid-terms the party governing the White House has been defeated (that is, lost seats) in the mid-terms. The scale of these defeats varies but the fact they can be predicted with near-certainty means there’s little incentive for Congressional leaders to rethink their views or positions on, really, any issue. Why bother when the nature of the political cycle means you’ll probably pick-up seats anyway?

    One of the problems with America’s two-party system (which is increasingly parliamentary in the way it operates) is that there’s no third party for protest votes. By default a protest vote – whether active or stay-at-home passive – can only benefit the other mob who, generally speaking, are little if any more appetising than the crew against whom you feel like protesting.

    That makes for unhappy voters and politicians who don’t often need to have a real think about what they’re offering or trying to do. The difference in the way our respective systems are organised ensures that comparisons are only of limited use; nevertheless America’s two party system and the way it operates creates few incentives for internally-driven reform. Congress doesn’t produce a Thatcher or a Blair or a Cameron type[*] of figure who will change their party to reflect changing situations or changed public views. There’s little sense of renewal in Washington, little sense that the opposition is really doing the hard work of preparing for power.

    And so, assisted by the way districts are drawn and by the advantages of incumbency, off-year elections in particular are a matter of enthusing the base. The most vulnerable members are usually, though obviously not exclusively, on the moderate wings of their party while the leadership, again mainly but not exclusively, reflect an established orthodoxy that satisfies few voters and excites even fewer. The current Congress may have achieved quite a lot (for good or ill) but it’s hardly been a fresh platform; similarly the GOP’s rhetoric is by and large at least 15 years old and just as stale…

    [*] This is one reason why Congress is such a rotten platform for the presidency. The Reagan movement wasn’t built in DC and nor, you can argue, were the New Democrats.’

    – Alex Massie, “Were the Conservative Reformers Wrong? (American Edition)”, The Spectator (Wednesday 6 October 2010)

  4. The Massie article is a pretty good summary of what is wrong with the American system.

    One technical correction, the presidential party also gained seats in the 1998 midterm election. But the general point is right.

    One thing I’ve found striking about Congress is that there are little in the way of a mechanism for the Congressional parties to generate their own policies. The closest we’ve seen was the 1994 Republican agenda. Instead policy is either made in the White House, or is something thrown together as a reaction to what is coming out of the White House.

    Also, the two party system and the presidential system have a tendency to reinforce each other. Since the directly elected executive is what matters, third parties don’t get taken seriously because you have to be large enough as a party to capture the presidency or governorship, and there is only room for two parties of sufficient size.

    To move this post back towards the topic, Brazil combines a presidential system with proportional representation for the legislature. That creates its own problems, and I’m not sure whether proportional representation or single member districts are more likely to deliver better outcomes if the presidential system is a given. At least Brazil uses direct election plus runoff to chose its presidents.

  5. The Green Party candidate, Marina Silva, will remain “neutral” in the runoff. She says, “We should place ourselves in a position as moderators.”

    Fine, but the problem is that the “we” implies a strong party, which as Wilf noted in a comment in the legislative-elections thread, she lacks.

    Thanks to Brazil’s high electoral separation of purpose, having a strong presidential candidate–she won 19%–does not guarantee having a strong presence in collective bodies like the legislature.

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