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The President's ‘New’ Constituency: Lula and the Pragmatic Vote in Brazil's 2006 Presidential Elections*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2008

Cesar Zucco is Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics in the Woodrow Wilson Center, Princeton University. Email:


The 2006 presidential elections in Brazil witnessed a dramatic shift of Lula's voting base away from the more developed regions of the country and towards the poorest areas. This paper uses municipal-level data to argue that while this shift represents an important change for the support base of Lula himself, it can mostly be explained by the government's massive cash transfer programme, the Bolsa Familia, and by the empirical regularity with which presidential candidates from the incumbent party in Brazil always perform better in the less developed regions of the country.


Las elecciones presidenciales en Brasil vieron un cambio dramático en la base electoral de Lula que se movió de las regiones más desarrolladas del país hacia las más pobres. Este artículo utiliza datos a nivel municipal para indicar que mientras que este movimiento representa un cambio importante en la base de apoyo del mismo Lula, el fenómeno se puede explicar mejor debido al programa gubernamental de transferencia de recursos, la Bolsa de Familia, y por la regularidad en la que los candidatos presidenciales del partido en el poder en Brasil siempre se desempeñan mejor en las regiones menos desarrolladas del país.

Palabras clave: Brasil, Lula, elecciones, Bolsa de Familia


A eleição presidencial brasileira de 2006 testemunhou uma mudança dramática no eleitorado de Lula, deixando as regiões mais desenvolvidas do país para seguir em direção às áreas mais pobres. Este artigo usa dados de nível municipal para argumentar que enquanto essa mudança representa uma alteração importante para a base eleitoral do próprio Lula, ela pode ser principalmente explicada pelo programa maciço de transferência de dinheiro, o Bolsa Família. Também é explicada pela regularidade empírica com que presidenciáveis do partido que está no poder sempre obtêm melhor desempenho nas regiões menos desenvolvidas do país.

Palavras-chave: Brasil, Lula, eleições, Bolsa Família

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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1 Hunter, Wendy and Power, Timothy, ‘Rewarding Lula: Executive Power, Social Policy and the Brazilian Elections of 2006’, Latin American Politics and Society, vol. 49, no. 1 (2007) pp. 130CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Jairo Nicolau & Vitor Peixoto, ‘As bases municipais da votação de Lula em 2006’, published online in Fórum Internet as Position Paper 2. (2007); André Carraro et al., ‘É a economia, companheiro! Uma análise empírica da reeleição de Lula com base em dados municipais’, unpubl. working paper, Ibemec, 2007.

3 The mensalão scandal was an alleged scheme by which the government was said to have paid bribes for legislators in exchange for support. It erupted in May 2005, and dominated the political news for almost a year.

4 The Federal District is usually counted as the 27th state, but it has been excluded from this analysis because it is not divided into municipalities. State by state results are available from the author upon request.

5 Samuels, David, ‘Sources of Mass Partisanship in Brazil’, Latin American Politics and Society vol. 48, no. 2 (2006), pp. 127CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Hall, Anthony, ‘From Fome Zero to Bolsa Familia: Social Policies and Poverty Alleviation under Lula’, Journal of Latin American Studies vol. 38, no. 4 (2006), pp. 689709CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Rosa Maria Marques, ‘A Importância do Bolsa Família nos Municípios Brasileiros’ in Cadernos de Estudo: Desenvolvimento Social Em Debate no. 1 (2005); PNUD, ‘Bolsa Família supera número de pobres. Numero de beneficiados pelo programa federal é maior que estimativa de domicílios com renda per capita inferior a R$ 120 por mês’, obtained from <>, accessed 30 August 2006.

8 These data were available from the Ministry of Social Development's website, which also publishes the actual roll of recipients.

9 The use of a bounded dependent variable such as the vote-share of a candidate can pose problems for a standard OLS regression, in which case another method such as a beta-regression would normally be recommended: see Ferrari, Silvia & Cribari-Neto, Francisco, ‘Beta regression for modeling rates and proportions’, Journal of Applied Statistics, vol. 31, no. 7 (2004), pp. 799815CrossRefGoogle Scholar. However, in the present case Lula's share of the vote across the more than 5000 municipalities – the dependent variable – is quite symmetric, and presents very few extreme values: only 3 per cent of the observations fall outside the 0.15–0.85 range, and less than 0.5 per cent fall outside the 0.05–0.95 range. This fact, coupled with the ease of interpretation, make OLS a feasible and attractive option for the problem at hand.

10 All data was obtained from publicly available online sources, namely the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), the Applied Economics Research Institute (IPEA), and the National Geographical and Statistical Institute (IBGE).

11 As examples of this effort, Affirmative Action has become a reality, and the government has began recognising the land rights of the quilombolas, residents of isolated communities descended from runaway slaves.

12 I also tried an alternative specification of these variables that accounted for the existence of governors or mayors elected by a coalition of parties that included the PT. Using this definition, the effects are slightly larger for governors, and slightly smaller in the case of mayors, but substantively the same.

13 Carraro et al., ‘É a economia, companheiro!’.

14 Márcio Moreira Alves, ‘O voto dos grotões’ O Globo, 7 Dec. 2002; Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, ‘Quem tem grotões não se arrepende’, Valor Econômico, 5 Feb. 2005.

15 Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in 1994, was technically not from the president's incumbent party. However, he had served as Minister of Economy under Itamar Franco, was responsible for taming inflation, and was seen, for all practical purposes, as the ‘government's candidate’.

16 The possibility of re-election of the president was introduced midway through Cardoso's first term. Incumbent presidents have run twice, in 1998 and 2006, and won both times.

17 Samuels, David, ‘From Socialism to Social Democracy: Party Organization and the Transformation of the Workers'Party in Brazil’, Comparative Political Studies vol. 37, no. 9 (2004), pp. 9991024CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Barbara Geddes, Politician's Dilemma: Building State Capactity in Latin America (Berkeley, 1994).

18 Beatriz Magaloni, Alberto Diaz-Cayeros and Federico Estévez, ‘Clientelism and portfolio diversification: a model of electoral investment with applications to Mexico’, in Herbert Kitschelt and Steven Wilkinson (eds.), Patrons, Clients, and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition (Cambrigde, 2007), pp. 182–205; Schady, Norbert R., ‘The Political Economy of Expenditures by the Peruvian Social Fund (FONCODES), 1991–1995’, American Political Science Review vol. 94, no. 2, (2000), pp. 289304CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ernesto Calvo and Edward Gibson, ‘Federalism, Public Spending, and Electoral Coalitions: Making Market Reform Politically Viable in Argentina’, in Ernesto Calvo and Juan Manuel Abal-Medina (eds.), El federalismo electoral argentino (Buenos Aires, 2001), pp. 179–204; Calvo, Ernesto and Murillo, Maria Victoria, ‘Who Delivers? Partisan Clients in the Argentine Electoral Market’, American Journal of Political Science vol. 48, no. 4 (2004), p. 742–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

* This point has already been noted by Hunter and Power. For more on the general characterisation of clientalism as a particular mode of political ‘exchange’, see, Kitschelt and Wilkinson, Patrons, Clients and Policies.

19 Beatriz Magaloni et al., ‘Clientelism and portfolio diversification: a model of electoral investment with applications to Mexico’; Shady, ‘The Political Economy of Expenditures’, pp. 91–5.

20 Duch, Raymond M. & Stevenson, Randy, ‘Assessing the Magnitude of the Economic Vote over Time and Across Nations’, Electoral Studies vol. 25, no. 3 (2006), pp. 528–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Yan de Souza Carreirão, A decisão do voto noas eleições presidenciais (Florianópolis/Rio de Janeiro, 2002); Alberto Carlos Almeida, Por que Lula? O contexto e as estratégias políticas que explicam a eleição e a crise (Rio de Janeiro, 2006); Jorge Almeida, Como Vota o Brasileiro (2nd edition, São Paulo, 1996).

21 Fabio Veras Soares et al., ‘Cash Transfer Programes in Brazil: Impacts on Inequality and Poverty’, UNDP International Poverty Center Working Paper 21, 2006.

22 Rosa Maria Marques, ‘A Importância do Bolsa Família nos Municípios Brasileiros’; Fabio Veras Soares et al., ‘Cash Transfer Programes in Brazil: Impacts on Inequality and Poverty’.

23 The quotation is attributed to Washington Luis, former governor of São Paulo and president of Brazil in the late 1920s, until overthrown by Getúlio Vargas in 1930. It was subsequently used by many other politicians.