By Ben Tavener
President Dilma Rousseff's lead over her rival presidential hopefuls is shrinking, the latest poll to be published ahead of this year's general elections revealed Friday.
The Datafolha poll surveyed 2,844 people in over 170 Brazilian cities about their voting intentions for the general elections, the first round of which is set for October 5.
Candidates will be officially registered in June, but the country's main parties have already announced who will represent them in the race for the presidency.
Some 37 percent said they would vote for Rousseff, pre-candidate for the left-leaning Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), down from 38 percent in the previous Datafolha survey conducted in April. The same poll gave Rousseff 44 percent of the vote in February.
Although Rousseff only dropped one percent since April, her nearest rival, Senator Aécio Neves of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSDB) increased his share of the vote to 20 percent from 16 percent in April.
Political scientist Maria de Socorro Braga, from the Federal University of São Carlos, says Rousseff’s once-comfortable buffer of votes has waned, at least for now.
“Today's survey shows the president is beginning to face greater difficulty in maintaining a wide lead in the first round, unlike the first half of 2013,” she told the Anadolu Agency.
Third place went to former governor Eduardo Campos, of the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialist Brasileiro, PSB), with 11 percent of the vote, up from 10 percent the month before.
The opposition has made some gains, but they were not yet impressive, said the Federal University’s Braga, adding that Neves had scored some points from those who swing between his and Rousseff's parties.
But the combined force of her rivals now means the chances of Rousseff winning the October election without a runoff are dwindling fast.
The poll showed, however, that she would still win through second-round votes, which would give Rousseff 47 percent and Neves 36 percent.
The Datafolha survey had a margin of error of two percent each way.
'Comfortable lead is no more'
However, with so many undecided, it is thought the situation could change before the elections. Rousseff could increase her lead, or the third placing Campos could start to chip away at Neves' gains.
"It's too early to bet that we'll see another fight between PT and the PSDB [as in the 2010 elections],” Datafolha Director-General Mauro Paulino said.
"The electorate is ill-informed and has demonstrated little interest in the elections. Half cannot say spontaneously who they would vote for, and the number of people looking to spoil their vote is the highest yet seen at this stage of an election campaign."
Rousseff is seeking a second term in office, the maximum allowed under the Brazilian constitution, but the poll proved that the Brazilian leader is still governing in the shadow of her predecessor, the extremely popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The poll gave respondents the option to vote for Lula instead of Rousseff, and the former president garnered some 49 percent – meaning he would win comfortably without a runoff.
Awkward questions ahead
Despite the former president recently ruling out running in this year's election and pledging his full support to Rousseff, his protégée, some party allies launched a “Volta, Lula!” (Come back, Lula!) campaign and urged the Workers' Party to reconsider their choice for presidential candidate.
Candidates can be changed until around three weeks before the first round of the elections, but the party has announced Rousseff as their preferred candidate on several occasions.
Some political commentators have suggested a rethink could happen if Rousseff's popularity were to drop to below 30 percent.
Rousseff's lead in the polls has been hollowed by concerns over the economy, excessive public expenditure on the World Cup and a lack thereof on public services, as well as a raging political scandal surrounding a questionable refinery purchase by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras in 2006.
She chaired the company board at the time and Congress is expected to launch an investigation into the transaction in coming days, despite efforts to stop the inquiry taking place.
A number of important figures from both the Workers' Party and Petrobras have rallied around to protect the president, suggesting she did not have information on the 2006 Pasadena Refinery deal at the time.
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