Brazil Elections: Why Financial Hub São Paulo Leans Toward Leftist Lula

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva garnered 47.5% of the votes in the city, reversing Bolsonaro’s 2018 victory in Brazil’s financial capital

Former president Lula makes a speech following Sunday's election results
By Bloomberg Línea
October 03, 2022 | 04:55 PM

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Bloomberg Línea — In the second round of Brazil’s 2018 presidential elections, then candidate Jair Bolsonaro won one of his most significant victories in the country’s largest electoral college, the city of São Paulo, taking 60.38% of the valid votes against his rival Fernando Haddad (of the Workers’ Party), a former mayor of the city from 2013 to 2016.

In addition, Bolsonaro led in 52 of the 58 electoral zones of the city of São Paulo.

Four years later, the current president saw the preference of the São Paulo electorate shift to his rival, Workers’ Party (PT) candidate and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won 47.54% of the votes in the city, equivalent to a little over 3.27 million votes, while Bolsonaro garnered around 650,000 fewer votes, around 2.62 million, or 37.99% of the total..

The two other candidates polled much fewer votes, with Simone Tebet taking 8.11% of the votes and Ciro Gomes 4.32%.

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This time around however, Bolsonaro won in only 17 of São Paulo’s 58 electoral zones on Sunday, while Lula received the most votes in the remaining 41.

The current president won in electoral zones of neighborhoods with a higher socioeconomic level, such as Jardim Paulista, which includes a good part of Jardins, Vila Nova Conceição and Itaim - including the Faria Lima region, identified as the country’s financial center, with headquarters of investment banks and management companies and high-end residential buildings. In that area, Bolsonaro took 41.95% of the votes, against 35.79% for Lula.

Bolsonaro was also ahead in traditionally conservative areas, such as Vila Maria, known for decades as a malufista stronghold, alluding to former mayor and governor Paulo Maluf. More of him later.


Bolsonaro obtained one of his best results in this electoral zone, with 47.71% of the votes, almost 10 points ahead of Lula, with 38.92%.

Bolsonaro also won in higher income neighborhoods in the eastern zone, such as Mooca (with 48.84% of the vote) and Tatuapé (48.98%). But it was in Vila Formosa that he garnered his biggest support in percentage terms, with almost half of the votes (49.32%).

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Lula wins from Grajaú to Pinheiros

However, Bolsonaro lost to Lula in the city’s lower and middle income neighborhoods and also in those identified with high socioeconomic levels. In the first case are the electoral zones where Lula saw the most support, in percentage terms, such as in Piraporinha (Vila Ângela) and in Grajaú, both on the city’s southern edges, and in Cidade Tiradentes, in the east.

In Piraporinha, Lula won 62.16% of the votes, against 26.94% for Bolsonaro.


But Lula also led in neighborhoods considered to be of higher social class. In the Pinheiros electoral zone, he won 46.75% of the vote, far ahead of Bolsonaro, who took 32.72%.

In the Bela Vista electoral zone, which covers part of the Avenida Paulista region, the former president took 56.46% of the votes, almost double Bolsonaro’s 29.60%, while in Perdizes, the advantage in favor of Lula was 46.39% to 35.33%, a little tighter.

How the PT turned the tables in the country’s largest city

According to analysts, one of the reasons for Lula’s strong showing in the city is that, as happened in other parts of the country, Lula’s figure overlapped with that of the PT, and which overrides any possible rejection of the party or the left-wing.


Another possible reason is that the city contains not only a good part of the country’s financial elite, but also the intellectual and academic elite, historically identified with leftist causes, such as the fight against social inequality and the adoption of inclusive policies as priorities.

Political analysts also recall that, despite Bolsonaro’s local victory in the second round in 2018, São Paulo is historically one of the cities that have given the most votes to the PT and left-wing parties in general for more than three decades, since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.

São Paulo voters elected Luiza Erundina, then of the PT, as mayor in 1988, the first woman to hold the office, and a little more than a decade later, Marta Suplicy, another female PT candidate, won the mayoral election.

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The tradition of Paulistanos and immigrants who vote in the city of electing left-wing candidates continued with Fernando Haddad, a university professor who had been education minister in the governments of Lula and former president Dilma Rousseff. Haddad managed a rare upset in the second round against José Serra of the PSDB in 2012, which led him to run the country’s largest city from 2013 to 2016.


In the last municipal election, two years ago, Guilherme Boulos, from the socialism and freedom party (PSOL), went to the second round against Bruno Covas of the social democracy party (PSDB) and attained 40% of the vote. In Sunday’s election, Covas was crowned as the most-voted federal deputy in the state of São Paulo, with one million votes.

But an analysis of history also shows that the city of São Paulo is used to appreciating - judging by the results of the polls - the alternation of power and the ideological spectrum of the candidates.

If on the one hand voters elected Erundina, Marta and Haddad, on the other hand they also elected right-wing or center-right candidates to run city hall. Perhaps the most notorious of them was Paulo Maluf, who ran the city on two occasions, from 1993 to 1996 and from 1969 to 1971, the first time as an appointee of then President Artur da Costa e Silva, under the military regime.


Since reelection was allowed in the electoral contest in 2000, never before has a mayor managed to be elected twice in succession by popular vote in the city of São Paulo.

Gilberto Kassab, in 2008, and Bruno Covas, in 2020, achieved reelection, but had only come to power after the resignation of incumbent mayors José Serra and João Doria Jr. respectively

And it is this pendulum in voter preferences that may help explain why Bolsonaro’s fortunes took a dive in São Paulo just four years after an overwhelming victory.

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Translated from the Portuguese by Adam Critchley