Environmentalist Marina Silva has widened her lead over President Dilma Rousseff to 10 percentage points in a likely second-round run-off in Brazil's October election as the country's economy dipped into recession.
Silva has 50 per cent of voter support ahead of the October 26 second-round vote against the incumbent, who has 40 per cent, according to a poll carried out on Thursday and Friday by Datafolha. Silva, the former environment minister, had an advantage of four percentage points over Rousseff in the previous survey conducted on August 14-15, which fell within the two percentage-point margin of error of the surveys.
Silva, who entered the race on August 20, is capitalising on voter discontent with a shrinking economy and above-target inflation. On Friday she pledged to slow consumer price increases by giving the central bank formal autonomy and moderating the pace of fiscal spending. Rousseff says her administration has protected workers with rising salaries and close to record-low jobless rates.
"The first two, three weeks of the campaign are critical for Marina," said Christopher Garman, deputy head of research at political consulting company Eurasia Group. "Voter preferences are still in flux. But in the first week she hit a home run."
Silva and Rousseff would tie in the first round on October 5 with 34 per cent of the vote each, followed by Senator Aecio Neves with 15 per cent, according to Datafolha, which surveyed 2,874 people. Brazil holds a run-off if the lead candidate fails to garner more votes than all the others put together.
Gross domestic product fell 0.6 per cent in the second quarter over the previous three months, after contracting a revised 0.2 per cent in the first quarter, according to data released by the national statistics agency. It's the first time Brazil's economy contracted for two straight quarters since the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008.
Coming ahead of the presidential and general elections, those figures will damage already low industrial and consumer confidence in what once was a fast-growing regional powerhouse.
Rousseff shrugged off the latest economic data, saying it was in part due to a slew of public holidays which the government granted during the month-long soccer World Cup in June-July.
Citizens enjoyed an afternoon off on Brazilian match days and host cities also had a holiday every time they hosted a game, dampening economic activity.
"I think this result is just a blip. Brazil has every chance of a resumption" of growth later in the year, Rousseff insisted.
While most eyes were on soccer, industrial activity dipped 1.5 per cent in April to June and second-quarter investment slumped 5.3 per cent, figures from the IGBE national statistics agency showed.
Rousseff's administration has cut growth forecasts for the year to 1.8 per cent, primarily blaming the global crisis.
But Silva's rise in the polls has put her the incumbent on the back foot.
"The data are likely to be seized upon by Dilma Rousseff's challengers in the presidential race to attack her poor record on growth and inflation," said Robert Wood, Brazil analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The Sao Paulo stock market took Friday's data in its stride with the main Bovespa index ending the final August session 1.65 higher for a 9.63 per cent rise across the month as a whole.
Silva became the candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party when former Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos was killed in an August 13 plane crash.