Brazil votes

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Sunday night. I've been following the election returns for Brazil's October 1 election with the help of this website and its frequent updates. You can click on the various states to get the results in each one.

For some time it's been expected that the incumbent president, Luis Inacío da Silva, usually referred to as Lula, would win the 50 percent-plus-one vote he needed to avoid a runoff October 29. But from the returns so far, it appears that that won't be the case. Lula is currently reported at 49.3 percent of the vote to 41.0 percent for Geraldo Alckmin, former governor of the state of São Paulo.

Lula is the candidate of the left-wing PT party and ran for president unsuccessfully three times before he was elected in 2002. As president, he has been far less of a left-winger than many people feared/hoped. He has expanded Brazil's bolsa socíal, which supplements the income of Brazil's working poor, a program started by his more moderate PSDB predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. But he has otherwise pursued moderate fiscal policies. Brazil under his leadership, as under Cardoso's, has been a major factor in world trade talks, working with India and South Africa to present a united position for developing countries. This has been frustrating for the United States insofar as Brazil and this bloc have not put forward proposals the United States agrees with. But it's also been very constructive, since it would be impossible for developed countries to negotiate individually with the dozens and dozens of developing countries, many of which have no sense of what their rational interests are. Brazil, with its sophisticated diplomatic tradition, steers them toward rational positions.

So the United States doesn't really have a dog in this fight. Lula's administration claims to have exerted quiet pressure on Venezuela's Hugo Chávez not to go too far, and Lula recognized the victory of Felipe Calderón in Mexico, which helped to deflate the pretensions of the loser, Andres Manuel López Obrador. And surely we could live very comfortably with an Alckmin administration, as we did with that of his copartisan Cardoso. 

Lula's problem with the voters has been not economics but scandal. Indeed, another scandal involving the PT broke in the days before the election.

So let's look at the numbers as they stand as of this writing. Lula is leading Alckmin nationally 49 to 41 percent. Curiously, this was the popular vote margin of Bill Clinton over Bob Dole in 1996. Of course the United States does not determine winners by popular vote and does not provide runoffs. We also have different ballot systems in each state. Brazil, in contrast, has paper ballots that are read by optical scanners. That means that some 89 percent of the ballots were counted within four hours after the polls had closed.

Lula is unlikely to get from the 49.3 percent currently counted to 50.01 percent because some four fifths of the uncounted votes are from São Paulo (all the references here are to states, not cities), which casts one quarter of the nation's votes. São Paulo so far has come in 55-36 percent Alckmin, with 33 percent of precincts left to be counted. Unless those are of substantially different political character and produce significant majorities for Lula, it seems there is no way he can get to a clear majority.

I see in Brazil the same kind of regional patterns I saw in the results of the July 2 election in Mexico.

The prosperous, faster-growing, more-free-market areas in both countries voted for the candidates of the center-right (Calderón of PAN, Alckmin of PSDB).

In Brazil, Alckmin also did well in the states to the south: Parana (53-37), Santa Catarina (57-33), Rio Grande do Sul (56-33).

Lula won in Rio de Janeiro (which tends to be anti-São Paulo), east of São Paulo, and in Minas Gerais (51-41), just to the north. Alckmin also won in the states west and north of São Paulo, where the boom in soybean and other farming has helped Brazil move to overtake the United States as the world's No. 1 agriculture exporter: Mato Grosso do Sul (56-36), Mato Grosso (54-39), and Goias (51-40). The Federal District, which is almost surrounded by Goias, and which has the highest income and education levels of any Brazilian state, voted 44-37 for Alckmin, with 12 percent for Heloisa Helena, a former PT left-winger who ran as a critic of Lula. As followers of U.S. politics know, where you get a concentration of high-education professionals, you get a clump, variously sized, of left-wing voters.

You get quite a different picture, a picture of a country that looks politically quite different, when you look at some of the states in the Northeast and the Amazon Basin. Here are the percentages by which some of the Northeast states were carried by Lula: Bahia (67-26), Pernambuco (71-23), Paraíba (65-28), Rio Grande do Norte (60-32), Ceará (71-23), Piauí (67-28), Maranhaõ (75-19). Also, Lula carried Amazonas, in the heart of the Amazon basin, 78-12. But his margin was far smaller in Pará, the big state that covers most of the eastern Amazon basin, 52-41.

I'm not aware of the regional differences or issues that account for these very different results. Also, three of the small states on the fringes of Amazonas went for Alckmin: Roraima, Rondônia, and Acre. I don't know what the story is there, either.

As I finish this post, I note that Lula's lead has been reduced to 49.1-41.1, with 95 percent of precincts reporting. In São Paulo 92 percent of the ballots have been counted, and Alckmin's lead there has been reduced only slightly, to 54-37. If I have time next week, I may compare Lula's showing this year with his showing in 2002, to see whether the regional differences were as stark then as they seem now.

Incidentally, it appears that 19.5 million votes were cast in São Paulo, more than have ever been cast in California or any state in the United States. Overall, Brazil is currently counting 90.6 million votes cast, a higher proportion of its population (about 180 million) than the 122 million votes cast in the United States in 2004, when the total population was about 294 million.