| BRASILIA, Sept 15
BRASILIA, Sept 15 When a Brazilian newspaper
reported last month that President Dilma Rousseff had gone for a
nighttime spin incognito around the capital on the back of an
aide's Harley-Davidson, her favorable mentions soared on social
It was just what Rousseff needed after a bad couple of
months: She had been booed at an international soccer match and
at a gathering of mayors from around the country. Worse still,
her popularity tanked following massive street protests against
corruption, poor public services and the high cost of living.
The unexpected outburst of anger was aimed at politicians of
all stripes and targeted Congress. But it also shook Rousseff's
administration to the core and clouded the prospects for next
year's election, when she is widely expected to run for a second
A technocrat with a distaste for the gladhanding of
politics, Rousseff quickly gathered her closest advisers, led by
her 2010 campaign adviser and pollster João Santana, and drew up
a plan to connect more with the public through travel and the
Internet, an aide said.
The president responded to the demonstrators' main demands
with a five-point plan to improve public transportation, health
and education services, maintain fiscal discipline and reform
Brazil's political system to make it more accountable.
The president has increased the frequency of her trips
around Brazil to two or three a week to inaugurate new schools,
low-cost housing and infrastructure projects aimed at upgrading
and expanding the overcrowded urban transit systems that sparked
the first protests in June.
"A government cannot be deaf," Rousseff, 65, told a crowd on
Wednesday in a working-class suburb of Rio de Janeiro where she
announced plans to build a new metro line.
Donning a hardhat and orange overalls, she visited a
shipyard that is building a production and storage platform to
tap Brazil's huge offshore oil reserves, praising a law she
proposed - and Congress quickly passed after the protests - to
use royalties to fund education and health programs.
At each stop, Rousseff starts by speaking to local radio
stations, a trick borrowed from her charismatic predecessor and
political mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who remains hugely
popular almost three years after leaving office.
Santana "has told her that she has to get out there and beat
the bush and expose herself to the people and explain all the
good things that she has been doing," said David Fleischer, a
professor of politics at the University of Brasilia.
The results are beginning to show. Rousseff's approval
rating sank from 73.7 percent before the protests to 49.3
percent in July. By last week it had climbed back to 58 percent.
The bump in the polls can partly be explained by the
president's efforts to improve public services in states with a
large middle class, such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas
Gerais - the same states that saw the biggest protests in June.
In a nod to the power of the Internet - the protests were
mostly organized on social media - Rousseff is also taking her
campaign to cyberspace.
Presidential aides said the government plans to revamp its
official www.brasil.gov.br website to make it more attractive
and user-friendly, providing everything from tax information to
a winning lottery number, not just touting government deeds.
Rousseff's Facebook page will be redesigned, and the
president will take to Twitter again, having stopped after
winning the 2010 election, they said.
LEADER OF THE PACK
If her poll numbers keep creeping higher, political analysts
say Rousseff will kick off the election year with a comfortable
level of support and as odds-on favorite among a relatively weak
field of potential rivals.
In a recent poll, the number of respondents who said they
would vote for Rousseff rose by 3 percentage points from July to
36.4 percent, while support for Aecio Neves, the likely
candidate of the main opposition party, PSDB, held steady at
Environmentalist Marina Silva, who placed third in 2010, was
the only politician to gain ground from June's protests because
she was not identified with the political establishment.
However, she is running out of time to register her new party,
called the Sustainability Network, by Oct. 5 to be able to run
for president again next year.
Cristiano Noronha, a political analyst with consulting firm
Arko Advice in Brasilia, said Rousseff's opponents have failed
to capitalize on the political crisis created by the street
protests. Still, her reelection will hinge on what matters most,
he said: economic performance.
Voters will want to see inflation and unemployment kept
under control. The infrastructure concessions and oil contracts
to be auctioned in coming weeks will also be crucial for the
government to revive investment and confidence in Brazil's
A U.S. Federal Reserve decision on Wednesday to taper off
monetary stimulus, which hurts emerging economies like India and
Brazil, would not help the recovery Rousseff needs, Noronha