Brazil’s polls massively underestimated populist appeal. Sound familiar?


Published October 3, 2022

The Washington Post

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s surprisingly strong showing in Sunday’s election was yet another example of polls underestimating a populist, right-wing candidate. The results, which trigger a runoff election later this month, show that national populism is alive and well in Brazil, even if Bolsonaro ultimately loses.

Pre-election polls in Brazil had predicted Bolsonaro’s defeat. They did not overestimate the strength of his main opponent, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, projecting that the leftist candidate would come close to the 48.4 percent he ultimately received. But they were massively off on Bolsonaro’s 43.2 percent level of support, instead often pegging him in the low-30s.

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Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, studies and provides commentary on American politics. His work focuses on how America’s political order is being upended by populist challenges, from the left and the right. He also studies populism’s impact in other democracies in the developed world.


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