Towel sales serving as voter-preference gauge ahead of Brazil election

By Carlos Meneses

Sao Paulo, Sep 23 (EFE).- Sales of towels with the images of rightist President Jair Bolsonaro and center-left former head of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are serving as an informal gauge of voter sentiment ahead of the Oct. 2 first round of Brazil’s general election.

Street stalls selling Lula and Bolsonaro beach towels have proliferated in recent weeks in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country’s two largest cities, with some vendors keeping a running count of buyers’ preferences on blackboards.

Images of those scoreboards have been going viral on the Internet, causing towel sales to soar.

The phenomenon has become known as “DataToalha” (DataTowel), a reference to DataFolha, a prestigious Brazilian polling firm that on Thursday released a survey showing Lula in first place with 47 percent of voter preference and Bolsonaro trailing far behind in second place with 33 percent support.

Like all the other voter surveys, DataToalha also shows Lula with a comfortable lead.

One vendor on Sao Paulo’s Avenida Paulista, Fernando Lopes, set up his street stall near the headquarters of the Federação das Industrias do Estado de São Paulo, a powerful employers’ trade union, and says he is thrilled with the pace of sales.

“I’m taking advantage of the contest to earn some money. The one selling the most is Lula’s,” the 31-year-old said as a group of people took a photo of his blackboard.

In fact, the tally at that stall was extremely lopsided: “Bolsonaro 34-Lula 193.”

Each towel is selling for 40 reais ($7.60). Hats with the images of those same two candidates, meanwhile, are selling for 30 reais.

Lopes works seven days a week and says he sells between 15 and 20 towels a day, most of them with the image of the candidate of the center-left Workers’ Party (PT).

“The Bolsonaro voters complain a lot. They say the tally is a lie and that I’m campaigning for Lula,” he said. “It’s not true because I sell both of their towels.”

Lopes said people have tried unsuccessfully to alter the count through bribes. “One woman even offered me 700 reais, but I told her ‘no.'”

He recalled that another Bolsonaro supporter said he wanted to buy 100 towels with the image of the retired army captain.

But Lopes said the man changed his mind when told the scoreboard was merely keeping track of the number of Bolsonaro- and Lula-supporting customers and that the count would go up by just one regardless of how many towels he bought.

Lula’s supporters on Avenida Paulista showed equal enthusiasm for their candidate and expressed hope that he will win in the first round, as some polls suggest. If neither candidate receives more than 50 percent of the ballots, a runoff will be held on Oct. 30.

“If I were rich, I’d buy 1,000 Lula towels,” Julia Espindola, a 30-year-old nurse who visited Lopes’ stall after hearing about those sales on social media, told Efe.

A half-hour later, Lula’s count had gone up by two to 195, while Bolsonaro’s tally was stuck on 34.

Lopes, who saw his income evaporate due to pandemic-triggered social-distancing measures and was forced to live on the street with his wife and two-year-old daughter, hopes that all the formal and informal polling prove correct and the ex-president will emerge victorious.

“Lula hasn’t won the election yet and he’s already creating jobs,” Lopes joked, while at the same time accusing the incumbent president of “not caring about the poor.” EFE

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