Good Call

Folha's new plataform to help voters choose lower House candidates is a well-deserved success

Paula Cesarino Costa
São Paulo

Only 31% of Brazilians say they trust the current Legislative houses, according to a Datafolha poll. This decreasing support is justified: 40% of 594 representatives are under current legal investigation. Operation Carwash alone is investigating 55 of them.

It's a desolate perspective for both Houses, which voted several controversial bills, such as the labor reform, Rousseff's impeachment and the corruption allegations against president Michel Temer.

In the upcoming general elections in October, there are 513 Lower House and 54 Senator slots to be filled. In whom are you planning to vote? Can you remember whom you voted for last election?

The amount of Brazilians who can't recall who they voted for both Houses varies between 30 to 79%, depending on the poll and the time passed since the election.

How to choose a candidate? What to consider? How to learn about all the innumerable candidates? On Monday (2), we released a tool to help our readers: Election Match.

It's a form with 20 questions - about inflation, development, abortion, drugs, State’s role in the economy, among others -- for the reader to answer. After that, the list shows a list of candidates more in tune with the reader's beliefs.

There are at least eight other similar tools in Brazil, and several equivalent experiments worldwide.

Election Match was inspired in dating apps, and "it will help to break the vicious circle of bad choices, uncommitted voters and low recognition between voter and elected officials," says Grupo Folha superintendent Antonio Manuel Teixeira Mendes.

For executive editor Sérgio Dávila, "it's a game changer and a quality leap in the traditional newspaper campaign coverage, which consists in featuring a few candidates, chosen by the newsroom, in our daily pages."

I have no doubts about the tool's importance and usefulness, but it still needs some adjustments. For example, the candidates' profile information is too short. Also, it needs to mandatory include the positions of candidates up for reelection.

Another criticism is that it's short-ranged. The editors informed me that Match will soon also have candidates from beyond São Paulo: Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, It will also likely include Senate candidates.

The Lower House has always been a challenge for newspapers. There are scarce investigative initiatives and intensive scrutiny over legislative actions, and no investment in permanent tools that allow voters to watch what their elected officials are doing. There were few stories about House campaigns.

Readers have previously suggested that the newspaper identifies, in an easy way, which candidates have investigations or lawsuits against them and for what reason - making it clear if they are under investigation, already in a lawsuit or if they have been convicted.

We had, a while back, a project called "Olho no Congresso" (Keeping an Eye on the Congress), a valuable tool to evaluate each representative, with data about attendance and votes on key issues.

Brasília bureau chief Leandro Colon and Politics editor Fábio Zanini say Congress coverage is a historical challenge, as well as House elections because campaigns are so fragmented and they are outshined by the Executive branch campaigns.  

"It's impossible to follow all 513 representatives one by one. We try to filter and focus on the topics which are relevant for the country," they said.

They disagree that Folha gives little space for the topic and say that the Legislative is an editorial priority. As an example, they mentioned stories about political dynasties, House chieftains and more.

They are good stories, but few and far between in the middle of the daily news. I think we are still lacking a systematic and impartial coverage, as well as digital tools for specific evaluations - attendance, presented bills, votes on relevant issues, political scandals.

Election Match is an excellent starting point for a more consistent and objective coverage of the Brazilian National Congress.