Image: João Nitsche


The effect of presidential elections on the local dispute

Municipal elections tend to highlight the parties that contested the previous presidential election. It is not by chance that the phenomenon of “presidentialization of disputes” is studied, that is, in lower level disputes, such as in municipalities, the importance of the main parties in the race for the Presidency of the Republic is evaluated, especially those that were opponents in the second round.

In order to think about the construction of the two strongest electoral parties in 2018, we analyze how their alliances developed until the dispute that marked them. We evaluated the coalitions built by the Workers' Party (PT) and the Social Liberal Party (PSL) to run for Brazilian mayoralty between 2012 and 2020. From the data, it is possible to observe that the 2018 dispute is a watershed in the strategies outlined by the acronyms .

The PT, in addition to tripling its lone candidacies between 2016 and 2020 (from 213 lone candidacies to 649), also reduced its participation in unrelated coalitions. The party opts for special care when considering the PSL. The reverse also occurs, as can be seen in Graph 1.

Graph 1. Percentage of PT and PSL candidacies in which there was an alliance between the two parties

Source: Own elaboration based on data from the Superior Electoral Court (TSE)

The parties that ran for president in 2018 demonstrate, two years later, the importance of the municipal election for the construction of their trenches. The apparent indifference between the parties in previous years had a strategic counterpoint in 2020. In 2016, the PT admitted the PSL as a coalition partner in 9,5% of its candidacies; in 2020, this number dropped to 0,5%. The PSL, in turn, formed an alliance with the PT in 28,5% of its candidacies in 2016; in 2020, this number increased to 1%.

The data are still premature for any conclusions, but they already point to a new movement in the municipal party systems in 2020. Although it can no longer count on the one who was previously its main affiliate, President Jair Bolsonaro, the PSL has emerged as a fundamental actor in the elections this year – tripling his candidacies as head of a ticket supported by other parties (from 105 candidacies to 349). In addition to the natural growth after success in the most important election in the country, the data show that coalitions between the PSL and the PT, even if they exist, are rare.

It is worth noting that all the municipalities where the two parties joined forces have less than 200 voters, that is, there is no possibility of a second round. They are territories of lesser national exposure for acronyms, therefore, of less wear and tear vis-à-vis the electorate.

The more judicious orientation that both parties established for their coalitions is important for us to assess the pretensions of the acronyms vis-à-vis the electorate. A high number of alliances between PT and PSL would probably be the target of criticism not only in 2020, but with repercussions in the next elections. In this hypothetical approximation scenario, there would be no winners. The removal, therefore, was the most viable solution for the strengthening of the two parties as leaders of the fields they propose to represent.

*Henrique Curi is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at IFCH-Unicamp.

*Otávio Z. Catelano is a Master's student in Political Science at IFCH-Unicamp.

Originally published on 2020 Election Observatory [] of the NCT/IDDC (Institute for Democracy and Democratization of Communication).

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