Ok, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, polls are usually wrong because they are bought and paid to say whatever the firm that bought them wants to say. Now in Brazil they find that the polls were wrong, now they want to criminalize them. It’s funny because in America polls are usually wrong, but they never want to send polling firms to jail over them. But maybe that will be what the right wingers say when the bullshit polls in America are finally discovered to be wrong this year.
In the first round of Brazil’s closely watched elections this month, polls were off the mark. They significantly underestimated support for far-right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and other conservative candidates across the country.
Many on the right were furious, criticizing the polls as out of touch with the Brazilian electorate.
That answer was expected. What happened next was not.
At the urging of Mr Bolsonaro, some of Brazil’s leaders are now trying to make it a crime to predict an election incorrectly.
Brazil’s House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would criminalize publishing a poll that is later found to fall outside its margin of error. The House, which is controlled by Mr. Bolsonaro’s allies, is expected to vote and pass the measure in the coming days.
Still, regardless of the measure’s fate, the proposal and other efforts to investigate pollsters for their recent miscalculations are part of a broader narrative pushed by Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies, with no evidence that Brazil’s political establishment and the left are trying to manipulate the election against him.
As Brazil prepares to vote in a presidential election on October 30, polls continue to show Mr Bolsonaro trailing his leftist rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president, but the race seems to be tightening.
For his part, Mr Bolsonaro has taken to calling the polling firms “liars”, claiming their mistakes gave Mr da Silva up to three million votes in the first round, and has called for the companies to face the consequences. “Not to make a mistake, okay? A mistake is one thing,” he said. “It’s for the crimes they’ve committed.”
He has not said what crimes he believes were committed.
The Brazilian Association of Pollsters said in a statement that it was “outraged” by the attempts to criminalize surveys that turn out to be inaccurate.
“Initiating this type of survey during the runoff campaign period, when the polling companies are doing their work, shows another clear attempt to obstruct scientific research,” the group said.
Polling firms added that their job was not to predict elections, but to provide a snapshot of voter intentions at the time a survey is conducted.
The bill in Congress is not the only attempt to target pollsters. Following a request from Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign ordered Brazil’s justice minister federal police to open an investigation into polling firms over their surveys before the first round of elections. And Brazil’s federal antitrust agency opened its own investigation into some of the country’s top polling institutions for possible collusion.
Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court judge and Brazil’s election chief, quickly ordered both of these investigations halted, saying they lacked jurisdiction and appeared to be doing the president’s political bidding. In return, Mr. Moraes ordered Brazil’s electoral agency to investigate whether Mr. Bolsonaro tried to use his power over federal agencies inappropriately.
Mr. Moraes has emerged as the ultimate control of Mr. Bolsonaro’s grip on power over the past year, and has at times drawn criticism for measures that law and government experts say represent a repressive turn for Brazil’s top court.
Among other moves, he has jailed five people without trial for social media posts he said attacked Brazil’s institutions. On Thursday, election officials further expanded his power by giving him unilateral authority to suspend social media platforms in Brazil that do not quickly comply with his orders to remove misinformation.
Mr. Moraes and Brazil’s Senate appear poised to protect polling firms from measures targeting their surveys.
Yet repeated claims that pollsters are corrupt may further weaken their ability to provide the best possible measure of public opinion. Some of Mr. Bolsonaro’s top advisers have urged his supporters to ignore survey participants in order to sabotage their results.
“Do not respond to any of them until the end of the election!!! That way, it will be safe from the start that any of their results are fraudulent,” Ciro Nogueira, Mr. Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter. “Were their absurd screw-ups? Only a deep investigation will tell.”
The top polling firms had predicted that Mr Bolsonaro would receive around 36 per cent of the vote in the first round. He got 43.2 percent, a seven-point gap that was outside virtually all polls’ margins of error.
Their performance was even worse in many down-vote races. In Rio de Janeiro, polls showed the conservative candidate for governor ahead by about 9 percentage points. Instead, he won with 31 points.
In São Paulo, some polls showed a left-wing Senate candidate ahead of his opponent by 14 percentage points heading into the first round of elections. Instead, a right-wing candidate won by nearly the same margin — a 28 percentage point swing from what polls had found before the election.
The polling firms have blamed a number of factors for their flawed forecasts, including outdated census data that hampered their ability to survey a statistically representative sample of voters. The firms said their polls were also underbid because a larger-than-expected wave of voters switched their ballots to Mr. Bolsonaro from third-party candidates at the last minute.
Some polling firms also said they believed many conservative voters were unwilling to answer their surveys.
The proportion of elderly voters far exceeded expectations, potentially due to a government announcement this year that voting was a new way to establish life proof and keep pension benefits active. Polls on the eve of the election showed older voters backing Mr Bolsonaro over Mr da Silva.
Brazil is far from the only country where opinion polls have difficulty giving an accurate picture of the electorate, especially the strength of conservative support.
In 2016, polls in the United States did not accurately predict support for Donald J. Trump, and the firms gave similar reasons for the miss, including the reluctance of some right-wing voters to answer surveys.
The credibility of Brazil’s polling firms was damaged after the election’s first round, and some journalists have become more hesitant to share surveys ahead of Sunday’s runoff.
Ricardo Barros, a conservative congressman who is co-sponsoring the bill to criminalize erroneous polls, said the legislation would force polling companies to be more careful about their results. Under the proposed law, only polls that err outside their margin of error would be held accountable.
“If you are not sure of the result, place a margin of error of 10 percent,” he said. “It loses credibility, but it does not misinform the voters. The problem is that today it is always presented as an absolute truth.”
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have also gathered enough signatures to open congressional investigations into the polling firms, although the leader of the Senate is expected to move to block that chamber’s probe.
Alexandre Cordeiro Macedo, the head of Brazil’s federal antitrust agency and an appointee of Mr. Bolsonaro, tried to go further than Mr. Barros in targeting polling firms.
Before Mr Moraes intervened and stopped the survey, Mr Cordeiro Macedo had accused top polling firms of collusion based on what he said was the statistical improbability that they had all underestimated Mr Bolsonaro’s support by such a significant margin. He claimed the scenario was about as likely as winning the lottery multiple times.
But Alexandre Patriota, a statistics professor at the University of São Paulo, disputed that, saying it would be nearly impossible to prove collusion based solely on the single measure.
“Even if all the institutes were wrong in the same way, this is not an indication of a cartel,” he said. “To have a hint of evil, you need something more than numbers.”