August 3, 2012 / 4:35 PM / in 6 years

Rousseff's popularity defies Brazil slowdown

* Rousseff buoyed by low unemployment, optimism on future

* 57 pct in poll say her government is “great” or “good”

* More than half of Brazilians want to buy a house

By Brian Winter

SAO PAULO, Aug 3 (Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff continues to enjoy high popularity as Brazilian consumers remain largely unfazed by a recent economic slowdown and very optimistic about their country’s future, according to a poll released on Friday.

About 57 percent of those polled said they thought Rousseff’s government was either “great” or “good,” according to the survey by the National Transport Confederation, or CNT. That was up from 49 percent in the CNT’s last poll, released in August 2011.

Only 7 percent of those polled last month said they thought the center-left government was “bad” or “terrible.”

Rousseff’s personal approval rating was even higher, at 76 percent, compared to 70 percent last year. Her high marks are similar to those reported in other recent polls.

Some data within the CNT poll, which surveyed 2,000 Brazilians nationwide, yielded clues as to why Rousseff is doing so well: Despite a sharp economic slump over the past year that has battered manufacturers, most Brazilians still feel safe in their jobs and believe their fortunes will only keep improving.

“The economic and industrial slowdown (in Brazil) and the fall in foreign economic activity have resulted in few consequences for the Brazilian economy so far,” CNT President Clesio Andrade said in a statement.

“This situation, combined with low unemployment rates and the high capacity for consumer spending, reinforce the sense of optimism detected in the poll,” Andrade said.

Those factors, he added, aren’t expected to change in the coming months and are likely to continue strengthening Rousseff’s popularity.

The poll also showed Rousseff with a huge lead over potential challengers in the 2014 presidential election, with her beating Senator Aecio Neves, a likely candidate for the biggest opposition party, 59 percent to 15 percent.

Brazil’s economy is expected to grow less than 2 percent this year - a far cry from the 7.5 percent growth seen in 2010. But unemployment remains at record lows as Rousseff’s government has passed several tax incentives and other measures to ensure that Brazilian consumers keep spending.

Some economists have expressed concern over the sustainability of Brazil’s “two-speed” economy, in which manufacturers struggle while the services sector continues to do well. Some believe consumer spending will inevitably start to fade - and unemployment could rise - unless Rousseff undertakes deeper reforms, for example by reducing taxes and encouraging more investment.

About 38 percent of respondents said they had delayed or canceled a planned purchase because of the global economic crisis. However, 53 percent said they believed their purchasing power would improve by the end of the year, with only 8 percent saying they thought their purchasing power would decline.

Asked what they would most like to buy, the overwhelming number-one response was “my own house” - at 58 percent. Brazil has enjoyed a low-income housing boom over the past decade, but most economists believe there is much demand still to be met.

A “new car” came in second place, at 18 percent.

The poll was taken between July 18 and 22, and had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

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