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Brazil election poised to be a nailbiter

Ipec and Datafolha, Brazil’s most renowned polling institutes, released their final readings of the presidential race before Election Day on Sunday. Both suggest the election’s landscape has changed little from Thursday, when the top candidates faced each other in a televised debate.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former two-term president, remains on the cusp of clinching the race in the first round. To pull off that historic win, he needs to get over half of the votes.

Datafolha has Lula on 48 percent of total votes — and 50 percent of “valid votes,” which discounts those who are undecided or plan to spoil their ballot. He had the same numbers on September 29.

President Jair Bolsonaro also remained stable, with 34 percent of total votes and 36 percent of valid votes.

Ipec shows a 51-37 lead for Lula when only considering valid votes. Total vote numbers have yet to be released. Lula lost one percentage point from a September 26 poll, while Mr. Bolsonaro gained 3 points.

For weeks, Lula and his allies have urged Brazilians to engage in “tactical voting,” behaving as if the first round was already a runoff between him and the incumbent president to clinch the race already on October 2.

They say giving Mr. Bolsonaro a fighting chance in the runoff is too dangerous for Brazilian democracy. But good debate performances by center-right Senator Simone Tebet may have hindered that strategy.

Whether the 2022 race will be decided in one round or two hinges on abstention rates and last-minute changes in voter preferences. In 2018, exit polls by Datafolha showed that 12 percent of Brazilian voters chose their presidential candidate on Election Day. An additional 6 percent made up their mind on the eve of the election.

“At this point, the possibility of a first-round win for Lula is the same as the race heading to a runoff,” said Mauro Paulino, a former boss of Datafolha who is now a pundit for cable news station GloboNews.

For President Bolsonaro, the Ipec poll brings a silver lining: his rejection rates dropped significantly, from 51 to 46 percent. Voters who say they won’t vote for Lula in any circumstance, meanwhile, went from 35 to 38 percent.

It remains to be seen if that will be enough for Mr. Bolsonaro to turn the runoff stage into a competitive race — if he manages to take the election there at all.

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