BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian polling companies have been threatened with a crackdown after their polls for the first round of the presidential election drastically underestimated the vote for the president and his allies.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s Justice Department has called for a federal police investigation, and the antitrust regulator on Thursday launched an investigation into whether pollsters formed a cartel to manipulate election results. Allies in Congress are pushing separate initiatives, one of which would establish prison terms for polls that don’t accurately predict outcomes.
Several analysts consulted by The Associated Press — even those who said the polls could improve — criticized those efforts.
“The main objective is not to improve electoral polls, but to persecute and punish the institutes,” said Alberto Almeida, who heads the Brasilis political research institute. “There have been mistakes, but to vote on a bill, to investigate Congress – it’s embarrassing. Wanting to criminalize is insane.
Prior to the Oct. 2 vote, numerous polls had indicated Bolsonaro was far behind. Some have suggested that former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could even score a first-round victory. Most had a margin close to or above double digits.
Instead, Bolsonaro came within five points of da Silva and the two will face off in a second round on October 30. Bolsonaro’s right-wing allies in the congressional and gubernatorial races have also done better than the polls indicate.
Throughout the campaign, Bolsonaro and his supporters have mocked the pollsters’ findings, pointing instead to the president’s crowded rallies. These, they said, represented his true support.
After the vote, they grabbed the results as evidence. And a wave of attacks followed.
Justice Minister Anderson Torres called on federal police to investigate the pollsters, writing on October 4 that their conduct appeared to indicate a criminal practice, although he did not specify what law they might have violated. . Police launched their probe Thursday, as did the federal antitrust regulator — only to have Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who also oversees the electoral court, block both probes that evening.
“These investigations appear to demonstrate an intent to satisfy (Bolsonaro’s) electoral will,” de Moraes wrote in his ruling.
A pro-government senator has asked the Senate to investigate institutes that operate “outside tolerable margins”.
And Bolsonaro’s lower house whip introduced a bill to criminalize polls taken within 15 days of an election whose findings differ significantly from the results.
The proposal to punish off-base polls goes far beyond previous efforts by Brazil’s Congress to simply ban polls just before the election so they can’t influence voters’ choices. Such a bill was passed in the lower house last year, but was not taken up by the Senate.
Such blackout periods are common around the world. Polls cannot be published within 15 days of the Chilean and Italian elections, eight days for the Argentinian races, five for Spain and three for Mexico.
On the other hand, it is legal to publish polls in Greece and the United Kingdom until the day before the vote. There are no restrictions in the United States, although most media organizations that sponsor polls on Election Day — including the AP — voluntarily wait to release information that could preview the result in each state until at the close of the polls.
Current Brazilian law prohibits the publication of a fraudulent poll, but does not specify how to establish fraud, leaving room for interpretation, constitutional law expert Vera Chemin says, so the nation should discuss reform of this legislation.
“But it has to be done calmly and impartially, which is not the case now,” she said, adding that the proposal to punish pollsters is “too extreme”.
According to its terms, survey managers and coordinators as well as clients who order a wandering survey could be sentenced to four to ten years in prison and a fine.
The bill’s sponsor, Lower House Whip Ricardo Barros, said in an interview that he faced resistance from other lawmakers, but described the measure as an alternative to a pre-election ban – a approach previously ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
“I would prefer to ban the polls, but since we cannot do like other countries, the pollsters need adequate techniques so that the results converge with what we see in the vote,” he said.
The Brazilian Association of Polling Institutes expressed “outrage” at efforts to take legal action against them. He said the country’s polls are “diagnostics, not projections” and follow international standards.
Eduardo Grin, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university and think tank in Sao Paulo, criticized the fact that Barros’ bill does not establish intentional misconduct as necessary for punishment, and said that It reflected Bolsonaro’s attempt to test public opinion for action. that limit society’s access to information.
Hardly a day goes by during the election campaign without the results of a new poll. This year’s first round counted 975 polls for presidential candidates, up 92% from 2018, according to Daniel Marcelino, data researcher for news site Jota who counted polls registered with the presidential candidate. electoral authority.
It’s unclear why so many polls have missed the target of Bolsonaro’s support. Analysts said respondents who said they favored cross-nomination candidates seemed to migrate to Bolsonaro at the last minute. Some have suggested that so-called “timid voters” were embarrassed to reveal their support for Bolsonaro. Others said outdated census data undermined the survey design.
Adriano Oliveira, director of Intelligence Scenario, a pollster based in Pernambuco state, said many polls frame questions in a way that skews the results. He said they should first ask whether respondents chose a candidate to avoid pressuring for an answer not indicative of their eventual vote. He also said that the results are often presented and reported by the media as if the voting intention was not subject to change.
Nevertheless, he said, “this crusade against research institutes is absurd. After all, it’s a business, it operates within the free market. … People define which institute has more credibility.
Carla Bridi, The Associated Press