Italy’s Berlusconi Narrows Gap With Bersani After Tax Pledge

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowed the gap in polls with frontrunner Pier Luigi Bersani even further after his tax rebate promise, three weeks before the country’s parliamentary elections.

The gap between the center-left bloc, led by the Democratic Party leader, and Berlusconi’s coalition has narrowed by 1.2 percentage points to 6.1 points, according to an IPR poll for RAI3 released yesterday.

Bersani’s bloc is losing ground amid a media blitz by Berlusconi and a derivatives scandal at lender Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, which traditionally has strong links with the Democratic Party. The 76-year billionaire is seeking to build on his gains in polls and on Feb. 3 added to his promise of abolishing an unpopular property tax known as IMU, pledging to also reimburse the amount paid last year.

Berlusconi, the most successful politician of his generation, has stepped up his anti-austerity rhetoric against Germany and the euro as Italians are mired in their fourth recession since 2001 and faced with a 13-year high unemployment rate. The signing of Mario Balotelli to his AC Milan soccer club also helped Berlusconi, who is appealing a tax fraud conviction he received in October, according to SWG Institute last week.

Support for Berlusconi’s coalition, which includes his People of Liberty party, has risen by 0.5 percentage points to 28.6 percent according to IPR. The poll had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. Fifty-four percent of surveyed Italians said the rebate of the property tax wasn’t credible, while 40 percent said it was feasible, the IPR poll showed.

Bersani Lead

A separate survey by the SWG Institute published today indicates that Bersani’s lead widened by 0.5 percentage points to 5.5 percentage points. The difference narrowed 0.8 percentage points to 8 percent, according to an EMG poll for La7 conducted Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, before Berlusconi’s giveaway promise.

Support for Prime Minister Monti’s coalition of centrist parties fell by 0.9 to 13.3 percent, according to the SWG poll, while the IPR poll showed a 0.8 percent decline to 14 percent. Comedian Beppe Grillo’s anti-austerity movement is gaining ground. The Five Star Movement’s support rose by 1 percentage points to 14.5 percent, according to EMG, while IPR showed Grillo advanced 0.9 percent to 15.5 percent, replacing Monti’s coalition as third-largest bloc.

Even if Bersani still leads in all opinion polls, Berlusconi’s surge may make it more difficult for him to assemble an outright majority in the Senate, where the election law doles out seats on a regional basis. Bersani’s bloc leads by one percentage point in Lombardy, one of the key regions in the race, according to the IPR poll. Should Bersani lose Lombardy, it would need to win the swing regions of Sicily, Campania and Veneto to get an outright majority in that house of parliament.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chiara Vasarri in Rome at cvasarri@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerrold Colten at jcolten@bloomberg.net

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