Millions of Brazilian Voters Frustrated as Centrists Implode

(Bloomberg) -- With Brazil seemingly headed toward a two-horse presidential race between left and right, centrist candidates are losing their allies, leaving millions of moderate voters frustrated and at a loss over whom to support.

Former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party has more than doubled his support over the past two weeks. He’s closing in on front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right former Army captain who was stabbed by a fanatic during a rally earlier this month. In a likely two-man runoff Haddad would have a slight advantage, polls show.

According to the latest MDA/CNT poll, published on Sunday, Bolsonaro slightly leads the first round with 28.2 percent support, ahead of Haddad at 25.2 percent, a statistical tie given the survey’s 2.2 percentage point margin of error. In the second round Haddad would beat Bolsonaro by 42.7 percent to 37.3 percent The poll was conducted Sept. 27-28 with 2002 interviews in 137 cities.

Millions of Brazilian Voters Frustrated as Centrists Implode

As a result, market favorite Geraldo Alckmin, one of a handful of candidates in a crowded center, is quickly hemorrhaging support as legislators flock to stronger contenders, according to three lawmakers in his coalition, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Senator Lasier Martins, of the coalition’s PSD party, said if current trends hold he’ll support Bolsonaro in the second round to defeat Haddad.

“One candidate is mediocre and the other is terrible,” Martins said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, the current radicalization doesn’t offer any hope for the country, but it’s what we have.”

Millions of Brazilian Voters Frustrated as Centrists Implode

Such resignation is playing out across the country, from the halls of Congress to office elevators and corner bars. Appeals from Brazilians to rally behind a centrist have done little to alter the landscape, and moderates’ hopes that cooler heads would prevail are sinking.

Real estate lawyer Patricia Roggia and her husband will cast their ballots for Bolsonaro on Oct. 7, but will do so with reluctance, they said at a traditional bar in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

“There’s a lack of options, and he’s the most adequate at the moment,” said Roggia, 46. “But I’m worried, because of his radical, extremist profile.”

Bolsonaro’s campaign faced some headwinds over past days as he clashed with two of his top aides and faced growing protest movements by women and soccer fans on social media. His rejection rate is the highest of anyone in the field, at 46 percent, according to a Datafolha survey published Sept. 28. Yet the influential farmers’ caucus is expected to endorse Bolsonaro on Monday.

Millions of Brazilian Voters Frustrated as Centrists Implode

Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso stopped short of naming a savior in an open letter, in which he pleaded for unity and wrote, “there’s still time to stop the march of senselessness.” Elena Landau, a liberal economist, said in an interview her biggest fear is Brazil will pick between two populist governments typical of Latin American regression.

Part of the problem is that rampant corruption revelations stripped establishment politicians of moral authority, according to Monica de Bolle, head of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University’s international studies school.

“Let’s choose someone, get behind that person and try to avoid this Bolsonaro-Haddad runoff which is really the worst possible scenario for Brazil, whichever way it comes out,” De Bolle said by phone. “You’d think there would be sufficient people to get behind that strategy, but it’s just not happening.”

Millions of Brazilian Voters Frustrated as Centrists Implode

Meanwhile, the cashier at the famous Rio de Janeiro bar, Eliseu, supports Haddad and is at odds with his brother Elias, the bar’s office administrator who backs Bolsonaro.

“The person who votes for Bolsonaro today is protesting against the Workers’ Party, and votes for the Workers’ Party are a protest against Bolsonaro, so it’s a rivalry,” said Eliseu Sales, 27. “I’m not voting happily. Brazilians don’t vote happily.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.