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A short guide to Brazil's presidential election

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

On Sunday, Brazil will hold a run-off election to decide between its final two presidential candidates, Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves. What follows is a very, very brief guide to Brazil 2014 basics: who's running, the parties, and why it matters.

Who the candidates are

dilma rousseff aécio neves

Incumbent Dilma Rousseff (L) and challenger Aécio Neves (R). (Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

Dilma Rousseff is the incumbent president. She's a member of the Worker's Party (WP), a left-populist party that has held power for almost 12 years. Rousseff is facing a very tight challenge from Senator Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB). Despite the name, the PSDB is on Brazil's center-right, and held power before the WP's victory in the 2002 election.

An earlier round of voting, on October 5, eliminated a third major candidate, Marina Silva. Silva threw her support to Neves, and since then Rousseff and Neves had been neck-and-neck. But in late October, a spate of polls showed Rousseff pulling ahead. So Rousseff looks more likely to win, but it's a close race.

What is the election about

pt supporter Rousseff

A PT supporter at a rally, wearing a Rousseff hat. (Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

As in most democratic countries, the economy is at the center of the election. Issues like inflation, poverty, and overall economic growth dominate the debate. It's a left-right election, so Rousseff favors expanding government programs to address these problems, while Neves prefers a slate of market-friendly reforms. Rousseff polls better among Brazil's poorer residents, while Neves leads among the society's wealthier.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, thinks the candidates are "nearly converging" on major issues. "They both seek to reduce inflation to 4.5 percent and strengthen the Bolsa Familia, a program that transfers small — but significant for the recipients — cash bonuses to poor families," he writes at Foreign Policy. "One of the few areas where there's fundamental  disagreement between the two candidates is over monetary policy," as Neves favors a more aggressive inflation target and a free-floating currency.

Corruption is also very important. The PT has been linked to two major corruption scandals since 2003 and the Rousseff government in particular has faced accusations of increased bribery at the state-owned Petrobras oil company.

What to watch for

minas gerais

Minas Gerais state. (Raphael Lorenzeto de Abreu)

Keep a close eye on Minas Gerais, the red state in the above map. It's Brazil's second largest state and roughly representative of the country's national demographics. That makes it a useful proxy for the rest of Brazil.

"It's the Ohio of Brazil," Mauricio Moura, a Brazilian pollster and professor of political strategy at George Washington University, told the Associated Press. "Brazil has never elected a president who didn't win in Minas Gerais." One more twist: Neves was the governor of Minas Gerais from 2003 to 2010, giving him an edge there.

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