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.
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.