What Accounts For the President of Brazil’s Dismal Approval Rating?
By Eli Gershon Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may face impeachment, as her approval rating has plunged to historic lows. Yet, she was recently reelected and her long and rocky political career has shown her to be a survivor. From humble beginnings in resistance-group politics to becoming Brazil’s first female President, Rousseff is sometimes called the “Socialist Iron Lady.“ Allegations of corruption have pushed Rousseff’s current approval rating as President to an abysmal 8%. On top of that, almost eight in ten Brazilians now favor her impeachment.
Born in 1947, Rousseff became active in Brazil’s left-wing politics at a young age. She joined leftist groups resistant to the government in the 1960s. In 1970, she was arrested on charges of subversion against the government and held for two years before being released. While in prison, she faced torture, allegedly ordered by the ruling party of the time, the anti-Communist military dictatorship. After her release from prison, Rousseff finished school and set out on her path to becoming a politician and economist. Rousseff has forged a long career in politics. She rose from low-level government positions to become State Secretary of Energy and then Minister of Energy before she was eventually elected President of Brazil. Throughout her political career, Rousseff’s roots have always been in leftist-socialist ideology. She is currently a member of the Workers’ Party, a social-democratic, left-wing party born out of opposition to Brazil’s military dictatorship decades ago.
Rousseff was reelected to her second, four-year term as President in 2014, but her margin of victory, at only three percentage points, was the smallest in Brazil’s modern electoral history. Since the election, her approval rating has dropped. It is now hovering around 8%. Perhaps even more damaging, polls show 77% of the Brazilian electorate favor impeachment for Rousseff, even though she is barred from seeking a third consecutive term by law. The low numbers are in part due to allegations of corruption and the poor performance of the Brazilian economy.
Comparing Rousseff to current U.S. President Barack Obama, we see that although less than half the U.S. electorate approves of the job President Obama is doing, he still has around six times the support Rousseff does.
Richard Nixon, in August 1974, had the lowest approval rating of any modern U.S. President, with a 24% approval rating. Comparing Rousseff to current U.S. President Barack Obama, we see that although less than half the U.S. electorate approves of the job President Obama is doing, he still has around six times the support Rousseff does. Finally, it is important to compare Rousseff to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of neighboring Argentina. Kirchner has an approval rating of 40%. Kirchner’s rating has fallen to this level from a respectable 47% in the past year due to growing concerns of economic instability and a scandal involving the murder of a federal prosecutor.
What accounts for President Rousseff’s extremely low approval rating? From 2003 to 2010, she chaired the board of Petrobras, the state run oil company. According to reports, these were the years when Petrobras was most linked to allegations of corruption and scandal. In February of 2015, an executive who served at Petrobras from 2003 to 2008 was arrested and charged with racketeering, bribery and money laundering through the company. However, there have been no reports directly linking Rousseff to these or any other charges of corruption at Petrobras. The President firmly, and often, denies she knew of any corruption at Petrobras, even though she was chair of the board. She maintains she was simply head of the company at a time of major corruption and turmoil.
The feeling is that billions of dollars were wasted on hosting the World Cup when those same billions could have been used to fund health, infrastructure and education development.
The Petrobras corruption, along with other minor instances of corruption, healthcare issues and unemployment rates are central to the Brazil’s politics, a Datafolha poll indicates. Datafolha is one of Brazil’s largest polling institutes, owned by the third largest media conglomerate in the country, the Folha Group. Unemployment is currently high, and economists report that Brazil’s economy is shrinking at the most rapid rate in 25 years. GDP is expected to shrink for a second straight year, with an estimate of 2.2% in 2015 and .2% in 2016, according to economists from a major Brazilian bank, Itau Unibanco. Reuters reports that Brazilians are unhappy that President Rousseff raised taxes and upped interest rates, creating another source of political dismay. Brazilians are also upset about the way the 2014 FIFA World Cup was run. The feeling is that billions of dollars were wasted on hosting the World Cup when those same billions could have been used to fund health, infrastructure and education development.
Many people, especially Brazilians, believe that it is time from Rousseff to resign or be impeached. However, she has given no indication that she would consider stepping down. Political leaders in the Brazilian Senate from both her party and the opposition party have spoken against impeachment, believing that it would be too destabilizing for the country, which has only been democratically run since 1985. Except for the fact that she is legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term as President, the future for Dilma Rousseff remains unclear. The next presidential election in Brazil will be in 2018, unless an impeachment, resignation, or indictment happens before then.