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december 14, 2012 • 04:41 PM

Brazil leader's popularity hits high despite stalled economy

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks during her meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's Kremlin December 14, 2012.
Foto: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating is at an all-time high, despite a stalled economy and political scandals that have tarnished the reputation of her ruling Workers' Party, an opinion poll published on Friday showed.

Rousseff's personal approval rating rose slightly to 78 percent, from 77 percent three months ago, according to the CNI/Ibope poll. Approval of her left-of-center government was unchanged at 62 percent, the poll showed.

The once-booming Brazilian economy almost ground to halt in Rousseff's first year as president in 2011 and recovery has been disappointing this year, despite a slew of tax breaks and other incentives adopted by Rousseff's economic team.

Third-quarter growth of 0.6 percent was half that expected by economists and surprised even the government, while investment declined for a fifth straight quarter, prompting calls from business leaders for a change in policy.

Pollsters say the slowdown has not affected most Brazilians, who continue to consume more and have a positive view of the government's efforts to reduce interest rates to historic lows, while keeping inflation in reasonable check.

"The crisis has not reached the people yet and their view of the economy is still satisfactory, or even positive," said CNI's head of research, Renato da Fonseca.

"There is still good news on the economy," Fonseca said, pointing to a popular step by Rousseff to try to lower some of the world's highest energy costs next year.

Data published on Friday showed that the economy could be beginning to respond to Rousseff's policies. A central bank economic-activity index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.36 percent in October after slumping in September, helped by the first annual increase in industrial output in more than a year.

But the world's No. 6 economy is still expected to grow just 1.0 percent this year, a far cry from the 7.5-percent expansion seen in 2010.

The economy's sluggish response to Rousseff's policies has made her politically vulnerable for the first time in her two years as president, and she needs to restore solid growth to keep alive her re-election prospects in 2014.

Rousseff has successfully shielded herself from the fallout from Brazil's biggest political corruption scandal that led to the conviction of top members of the Workers' Party by the Supreme Court last month.

The politicians sentenced to jail terms for running a vote-buying scheme in Congress during the government of her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, including his former chief of staff Jose Dirceu, are not linked to Rousseff's administration.

Rousseff, who gained a reputation for not tolerating corruption by firing six ministers in her first year in office, moved quickly to dismiss officials implicated in another scandal that broke last month - an influence-peddling ring centered on Lula's former private secretary.

Brazilians have not associated the corruption cases with Rousseff, even the latest scandal which involved officials in her government but who were appointed on Lula's watch.

"We are seeing that it hasn't undermined confidence in the president and her way of governing," Fonseca said.

The quarterly poll of 2,000 people by Ibope and CNI, the country's largest industry lobby, was conducted between December 6 and December 9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

(Additional reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Editing by Todd Benson and David Brunnstrom)

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