Cambridge Analytica partner won't stomach Brazil fringe politics

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(Bloomberg) -- Cambridge Analytica, the big-data firm that helped elect Donald Trump, is prospecting for clients in Brazil’s presidential race next year. Yet its local partner has a condition: no extremists.

CA Ponte, the partnership between the London-based firm and Brazil’s Ponte Estrategia, has been in touch with representatives of three potential candidates ahead. It expects to close a deal around March, when the political landscape may become clearer. Andre Torreta, who heads the company in Brazil, said he’s working to “tropicalize” Cambridge Analytica’s methodology ahead of the elections, adapting them to the local environment. But his services won’t be available to just anyone.

“Everything in life has limits,” Torreta said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro, explaining that he “wouldn’t work” for someone on the left or right fringes of the political spectrum, citing a family member’s arrest and torture under authoritarian rule. He declined to discuss specific candidates.

Years of political scandal and economic crisis have left Brazilians extremely disillusioned with their leaders, surveys show. Candidates who can take advantage of voter anger at the political establishment are likely to have the upper hand, according to Eurasia political consultancy. A firebrand right-wing congressman, Jair Bolsonaro, is running second to former leftwing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, according to the latest opinion polls.

Cambridge Analytica boosted its reputation during Trump’s successful campaign by crunching data to deliver tailor-made messages to voters with different personalities or values. It makes partnerships with local political strategists to “maximize the impact” of their respective expertise, the company in London said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. In Brazil, the agreement with Ponte Estrategia “isn’t exclusive but we are not working with anyone else, and they would be our preferred partner in any case,” the statement read.

As part of the effort to adapt the methodology to Brazil, where privacy laws are more restrictive than those in the U.S., Torreta said he will rely more on surveys for targeted marketing rather than buying voter data. Campaigns using electronic platforms will play a more important role next year, he said, as Brazil’s Congress last month approved new electoral rules allowing candidates to buy ads on social media.

“Until 20 days ago, my digital campaign on Facebook would reach 4 percent of the electorate,” Torretta said. “Now, with money, it will reach everyone.”

Despite voter anger toward traditional politicians, Torreta says Brazil’s top job is unlikely to go to a political outsider next year, citing research that shows voters believe an experienced candidate is needed to take the country out of crisis.

“Brazilians are tired of people telling them everything is a mess; they want someone telling them what they will do to fix it,” he said.

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