This article analyzes the continued popular support for Lula and Dilma in the face of multiple corruption allegations throughout their respective presidencies. What explains their ability to survive corruption? And what are the implications of this – at first sight – lack of electoral punishment for Brazilian democracy? In searching for answers to these questions, this article looks at four mechanisms that help explain the continued popularity of politicians amid allegations of corruption: the use of clientelism as payoffs, informational failures, the relevance of other issues, and rouba mas faz.
By analyzing Lula’s and Dilma’s terms in office and their inopportune links to corruption, this article argues that the shifting strategies used to deal with corruption allegations effectively shifted the reputational costs of corruption away from individual political leaders and toward the Workers’ Party and the political system as a whole. This finding emphasizes the mid- to long-term consequences of corruption scandals on political parties and democratic institutions, while also shedding light on the paradoxical relationship between corruption as a voting valence issue and continuing electoral support for politicians allegedly involved in corruption.