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Brazil’s Northeast: Lula country

From the Amazonian North to the Argentina- and Uruguay-facing South, Brazil’s five broad macroregions are greatly diverse from one to another. Accents, heritage, and cuisine are among the most visible differences, but around election season, voting habits resurface as another clear divide. The South is traditionally conservative, and the large number of southern farm owners who bought up cheap land in the Center-West and North pushed those region’s politics to the right as well. The heavily populated Southeast — home to the cosmopolitan cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — can go either way, typically acting as bellwethers in national elections. But the Northeast, the poorest region in the country, is undeniably painted in the red of the center-left Workers’ Party.

In the October 2 election first round, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva outperformed incumbent Jair Bolsonaro by almost 13 million votes in the Northeast.

With their support, Lula came out on top in the vote, just over 1 million votes away from clinching an absolute majority and winning the election in the first round. Without them, Mr. Bolsonaro would have taken the lead.

A shift in the Northeast could decide the election in favor of either of the two men, but the chances of the needle moving toward the current president are slim.

During his time as president between 2003 and 2010, Lula embarked on large-scale programs to cut extreme poverty, eradicate hunger, and boost consumption. As the poorest of Brazil’s five regions, the Northeast was the primary beneficiary of the leftist figurehead’s policies—and, on the whole, the local populations are still grateful to him.

Late on Wednesday, Lula led a vast public afternoon rally in Salvador, the largest city in the Northeast. It is clear that his support for him in the region remains strong.

In regional terms, the die appears to be cast in the pro-Bolsonaro South and pro-Lula Northeast. Therefore, attentions of both men are set to turn to the Southeast, the home of over 42 percent of Brazil’s voters.

Lula enjoyed a comfortable win in the city of São Paulo, but was hammered in the surrounding state. In Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, however, the race still seems up for grabs. Lula won well in the former, while Mr. Bolsonaro enjoyed an even bigger lead in the latter. Nudging those margins either side could well decide the entire election.

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