Rouseff’s approval rating hits a high

Posted on June 29, 2012

In sharp contrast to governments in the US and Europe and despite economic headwinds at home, the approval ratings of the administration of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff hit a record high of 59 per cent in June.

The personal approval rating of Brazil’s first female president, meanwhile, was stable at 77 per cent, according to a poll by the Confederation of National Industry, as she retained her place among the most popular democratically elected leaders in the world, exceeding even the record of her charismatic predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

    “She’s been able to more or less maintain Brazil with its nose above water,” said David Fleischer, political scientist at the University of Brasília. “With low inflation and salaries increasing somewhat.”

    The high popularity rating is an important vote of confidence in the leadership of Ms Rousseff, who took over from Mr Lula da Silva as his anointed successor from the ruling Workers party, or PT, in January last year.

    Although she had served as his chief of staff, she had never held elected office before, prompting pundits to predict she would struggle to manage the sprawling and quarrelsome ruling coalition in Brazil’s Congress.

    Particularly problematic is the PMDB, her party’s main coalition partner, a large regionalist grouping whose pork barrel-loving politicians are constantly in competition with the PT for the most lucrative ministerial portfolios and government jobs.

    But the rising approval rating of Ms Rousseff’s government, which rose 3 percentage points in June compared with 56 per cent in the last CNI poll in March, will help suppress the ability of coalition rivals to challenge her decisions.

    The ratings will surprise many because they come at a time when Brazil’s economy has slowed to a near stall, expanding only 0.8 per cent in the first three months of this year compared with a year earlier.

    The central bank is now forecasting growth for this year of 2.5 per cent – below last year’s 2.7 per cent, which in turn was slightly more than a third of the breakneck 7.5 per cent growth Brazil recorded in 2010.

    Analysts believe Ms Rousseff’s popularity is due to record low unemployment, which is stable at below 6 per cent, a 14 per cent increase in the minimum wage this year, and a sharp reduction by the central bank in the benchmark Selic interest rate.

    “A reduction in interest rates has driven up the approval of the government of Dilma Rousseff in the evaluation of the population,” the CNI said in a statement.

    To prevent unemployment from rising, the government has also embarked on an aggressive package of tax breaks and protectionist measures for sections of industry hit by the country’s strong exchange rate against the dollar or competition from cheaper imports.

    Mr Fleischer said Ms Rousseff was also benefiting from a sympathy vote related to the opening in May of a truth commission into atrocities committed by Brazil’s former military rulers in their two-decade dictatorship that ended in the 1980s.

    Ms Rousseff was tortured during this period as a leftwing guerrilla and imprisoned for three years.

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