Tue, Jan 25, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Berlusconi damaged, but not his party, poll finds

PUBLIC APPEAL:Pollster Renato Mannheimer said the apparently contradictory survey shows how polarized and disoriented Italians are, and their lack of options

Reuters, ROME

The latest sex scandal surrounding Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has damaged his public image, but support for his party has risen, meaning he would likely win an early election, a respected pollster said on Sunday.

Presenting the findings of his latest ISPO survey for Corriere della Sera daily, Renato Mannheimer said that while half of those interviewed thought Berlusconi should resign, support for his center-right party had increased.

The poll was conducted after Milan prosecutors alleged that Berlusconi paid for sex with a “significant” number of prostitutes, including a 17-year old nightclub dancer.

The 74-year-old prime minister, who has survived a string of scandals over his private life since returning to power in 2008, denies any wrongdoing and says he has never paid for sex. With Italian media full of details of the parties that prosecutors allege took place at Berlusconi’s homes, Mannheimer said the scandal appeared to hurt the prime minister’s public image, but not his party’s electoral appeal.

“This apparently contradictory survey shows how polarized and disoriented Italians are,” Mannheimer said.

“It means that even some -center-right voters who have grown -critical of him because of the latest scandal see no credible alternative in the opposition,” he said.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said Berlusconi should step down, up 8 percentage points from a year ago and compared with 45 percent who thought otherwise.

However, voter intentions for his People of Freedom party rose to 30.2 percent from 27.6 percent last month, cementing its rank as Italy’s biggest political force and indicating that Berlusconi would likely win an early election.

Italy’s electoral system gives power to the largest party or coalition regardless of whether it has an absolute majority. Support for PD (Partito Democratico), the biggest party in the chronically divided center-left opposition, was steady at 24.5 percent.

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