Brazil’s presidential vote is just a few days away. Voters are comparing it to “war”.


Brazil’s upcoming presidential election has been surrounded by an atmosphere of unprecedented tension and violence. As the October 2 vote approaches, episodes of harassment and assault have increased, and even neutral players such as polling institutes have become targets.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is aiming for re-election, has fallen behind leftist former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva in major polls. And the battle between these two very different household names has divided the nation – experts say the level of political anger is different this year.

“The polarization we are experiencing this year is different than a political polarization,” says Felipe Nunes, CEO of Quaest Research Institute, which conducts polls in Brazil.

“This year we are seeing affective polarization where different political groups see each other as enemies, not opponents.”

Several of his team’s investigators have been harassed while conducting interviews this year, Nunes added.

Another popular research institute, Datafolha, said the life of one of its researchers was threatened after he refused to interview an identified Bolsonaro supporter in the city of Ariranha, outside Sao Paulo.

The dissident accused the researcher of bias, accusing him of only interviewing “Lula supporters” and “cheats”. He then hit her with a knife and threatened her, says Datafolha, who filed a police report.

“One of the voting guidelines is not to interview the person who offers himself. It has to be random for statistical purposes,” Jean Estevao de Souza, Datafolha’s election researcher project coordinator, told CNN.

“The most typical cases (of attacks) are people who offer themselves and when the investigator explains that they cannot be interviewed in that situation, the person starts filming, insulting and cursing.”

According to Datafolha, another 42 cases of harassment and violence against its employees have been reported since September 7 of this year.

While violence has been seen on both sides of the political spectrum, critics accuse Bolsonaro of deliberately fueling distrust and frustration with Brazil’s electoral system. And increasingly, as his performance in the polls indicates, Bolsonaro’s anger has turned to research organizations like Datafolha.

Datafolha has repeatedly been named – and the accuracy of its polls has been questioned – by Bolsonaro. In a speech in Brasilia on September 7 to mark Brazil’s 200th anniversary of independence, Bolsonaro dismissed Datafolha’s projections, a common theme in his speeches.

“Here I have never seen such a big sea with those green and yellow colors. There is no Datafolha lie here,” he said. “Here is the truth, here is the will of an honest, free and working people.”

At a September 23 campaign event, Bolsonaro kept his tone in a speech to supporters in Divinópolis, Minas Gerais state. “We are the majority. We will win in the first round. There is no election without people on the streets. We don’t see any other candidate holding a gathering that approaches 10% of the citizens here,” he said.

According to the latest polls, Lula Bolsonaro has emerged as the leader in recent weeks.

Attempts by politicians to ignore polling institutes are not new in Brazil, says Datafolha’s Estevao de Souza. “But until this year, we had never been harassed and attacked in the street against researchers.”

“The president’s campaign that tries to discredit the polls ends up spreading the rhetoric of the attack on the institutes among the most radicalized supporters and it is reflected in the streets,” he said.

The verbal spat between the two main candidates – although not in Brazil – has also added to the poisoned atmosphere, as Bolsonaro repeatedly calls Lula a “thief”, and Lula has recently described Bolsonaro as a vermin.

Faced with a charged national conversation, some Brazilian voters have decided against discussing their electoral priorities in public, according to a Quaest survey.

“Recently we asked voters if it is more dangerous to express their opinion or to vote. And about 80 percent of respondents said it’s more dangerous to talk about politics right now than it was in the past,” Nunes continued.

The attacks on pollsters are just one example of the political hostility Brazil’s nation is preparing for the polls.

In a speech in which he accepted his party’s candidacy for the elections on July 23, the Brazilian president called on his supporters to “support freedom”.

“Repeat with me: I swear to give my life for freedom. One more time,” said Bolsonaro to the crowd who repeated the words.

Clashes between Bolsonaro and Lula supporters have been repeated, the most emblematic episode, perhaps, of the July 9 shooting of Marcelo Arruda, a member of the Workers’ Party, by Bolsonaro supporters José da Rocha Guaranho, who was later charged with a more serious murder.

Since Guaranho was also shot and then hospitalized, he said he does not remember what happened.

The high-profile incidents have caused fear among some potential voters, and risk putting people off the ballot. On the streets of Sao Paulo’s iconic Paulista avenue, voters interviewed by CNN expressed frustration at the bitter atmosphere surrounding the upcoming elections.

“There is too much tension, it is almost turning into a war. It seems that Lula and Bolsonaro are like football teams. People are angry with each other,” said 33-year-old Erika de Paula, who was still undecided but would not vote for Bolsonaro.

Felipe Araujo, who considers himself a moderate supporter of Bolsonaro, wanted the elections to end soon. “(The election) is very polarized between the two main candidates. And there is a lot of fighting between people. I really hope this ends soon. It has contaminated all environments, work, family, friends”, he said.

Voter turnout will be crucial at this historic moment in the country, which could either double down on Brazil’s leadership on Bolsonaro’s agenda or swing it to the left under Lula.

But four in ten Brazilians believe there is a high chance of political violence on election day and, although voting is compulsory in Brazil, 9% said they were considering not voting for fear of violence, according to the Datafolha poll. the month

“These tensions and attacks are very bad for research work, but also for elections, for the political environment in general, and for democracy itself,” said Estevao de Souza of Datafolha.