March 2, 2018 / 1:49 PM / 18 days ago

5-Star, League may score surprise gains in Italy's election - pollsters

ROME (Reuters) - The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League could do better than expected in Italy’s election on Sunday and the head of the anti-immigrant League could be in a position to become the next prime minister, pollsters say.

5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio poses with the would-be cabinet team, ahead of election in Rome, Italy, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

The 5-Star Movement was already the leading single party according to all opinion polls issued before their publication was banned two weeks ago, with around 28 percent of the vote.

However, several pollsters told Reuters they thought 5-Star might reach 30 percent or above, though they dismissed the chances of it nearing the 40 percent threshold needed to form a government on its own.

“I think at the last moment a lot of undecided voters will go for 5-Star and it will take them above 30 percent,” said Federico Benini, head of the Winpoll agency. “These voters want change, and at this election that is represented by 5-Star.”

Antonio Noto, head of the Noto polls agency, said he would not be surprised to see 5-Star reach 30 percent.

Both pollsters said the League, which is running as part of a centre-right election alliance, could also pull off a shock.

Noto said he saw a more than 50 percent chance that the League, led by the blunt-spoken eurosceptic Matteo Salvini, would overtake former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) as the leading party in the alliance.

That would unnerve financial markets since, if the centre-right manages to reach a parliamentary majority, it would pave the way to Salvini becoming prime minister, complete with his free-spending policies and hostility to the European Union’s common currency.

In most opinion polls before the publication ban, the League lagged Forza Italia by between two and six percentage points.

Benini said, however, that some people might be ashamed to admit to pollsters they planned to vote for the League because of its strident anti-immigrant stance.

Northern League leader Matteo Salvini gestures during a meeting in Rome, Italy, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


Pollsters agreed the centre-right alliance was the only group with any chance of getting a parliamentary majority, and whether it did so would depend on dozens of marginal seats in Italy’s poorer south where it faced close races with 5-Star.

Benini said he saw a 35 percent chance that the centre-right would get a majority. Noto put it at 50 percent, while Renato Mannheimer, head of the Eumetra MR agency, estimated it at between 35 and 40 percent.

Northern League leader Matteo Salvini signs the party symbol during a meeting in Rome, Italy, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Pollsters have continued conducting polls for clients since the publication blackout.

“It all depends on the south, where a lot of people are still undecided between 5-Star and Forza Italia,” said Mannheimer.

He said 5-Star was the most popular party in the south, but Forza Italia had better-known local candidates, and this counted for a lot in a disadvantaged region where personal contacts play a central role in finding work and obtaining favours.

“People say, ‘I know him, he’s my friend, or he got a job for my cousin,’ and this matters in the south,” Mannheimer said.

The ruling Democratic Party (PD), whose support has declined in the last year to about 23 percent before the blackout, risks a virtual wipe-out in the south, pollsters said.

However, they differed over how it would perform nationwide on Sunday.

Benini forecast the PD getting less than 20 percent. Noto said it would be “more likely to fall to 20 than rise to 25,” but Mannheimer said it may already have touched bottom and was more likely to recover some ground at the election.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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