World Cup Jeers Meant to Thrash Rousseff Seen Buoying Support

Dilma Rousseff was caught in a chorus of curses and boos at the World Cup opening game. As a result, Brazil’s president may catch a break.

Spectators in Sao Paulo directed expletive-laden chants at Rousseff before the opening whistle and after Brazil’s national team defeated Croatia on June 12. Some of the heckling was obscene, and that breach of decorum will help offset her recent decline in the polls, said Thomas Trebat, director of Columbia University’s Global Center in Rio de Janeiro.

“That was so revolting for so many people,” Trebat, a former Citigroup Inc. analyst, said by phone. “That was kind of a turning point. I don’t think we’re going to have the same overheated protests aimed at Dilma. I think she’s turned a page.”

Rousseff didn’t give an opening speech for the monthlong tournament that protesters since last year have targeted as the embodiment of wrongheaded government priorities. The protests drove Rousseff’s approval rating to a record low, and her support has slipped again this year ahead of October elections. Brazil’s squad faces Mexico today, and Rousseff will watch the game at Alvorada, according the president’s press office.

“I want to remind everyone that I faced situations of the most difficult nature. Situations that tested physical limits, and I withstood,” Rousseff, who was jailed and tortured for taking up arms against Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, said in a June 13 speech. “I won’t, therefore, allow insults that shouldn’t even be heard by children and families to frighten me.”

Net Positive

Rousseff’s support slipped to 38 percent this month from 40 percent in May while opposition candidate Senator Aecio Neves edged up two percentage points to 22 percent, according to a June 4-7 poll of 2,002 people conducted by public opinion research company Ibope. The results have a margin of error of two percentage points.

Rousseff’s approval among voters has fallen as the economy slows and inflation approaches the ceiling of the government’s target range.

Gross domestic product in the first quarter expanded 0.2 percent, about half the pace of the previous three months, after her first three years in office produced the weakest growth for a Brazilian leader since Fernando Collor stepped down amid allegations of corruption in 1992.

Consumer confidence in May fell to its lowest level in more than five years, as annual inflation accelerated to 6.37 percent. The government targets consumer price increases of 4.5 percent plus or minus two percentage points.

‘Emotional Tactics’

While the jeering was a net positive for Rousseff that may boost her approval rating in the short term, that won’t revert the trend of decline as she remains vulnerable to economic weakness, according to Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was jeered in Rio during the 2007 Pan American games. Lula rose from poverty and left office in 2010 with the highest popularity record for a departing president.

Lula portrayed himself as a victim of Brazil’s class structure, and the Workers’ Party, known as PT, is adopting the same strategy with Rousseff, Castro Neves said.

Lula said those attacking Rousseff at the stadium were from the elite and that the working class wouldn’t act in such a way, Folha de S. Paulo reported June 13.

“In moments of more desperation for the PT, given her drop in polls and the negative news cycle, they’re resorting to that well-known tactic of portraying themselves as representatives of the poor,” Castro Neves said. “They’re trying these emotional tactics to shield them from any more harm. Lots of people like that kind of discourse.”

A press officer from the presidency who can’t be named because of internal policy declined to comment on the jeering episode beyond Rousseff’s remarks made June 13.

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