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Italy Anti-Austerity Party Tops 20% for First Time, Poll Says

Beppe Grillo, Italian comedian-turned-politician, used anger over austerity and higher retirement ages to boost a political party that polls show could get as much as 18 percent of the vote nationwide in elections due by May. Photographer: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images
Beppe Grillo, Italian comedian-turned-politician, used anger over austerity and higher retirement ages to boost a political party that polls show could get as much as 18 percent of the vote nationwide in elections due by May. Photographer: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Backing for Italy’s 5 Star Movement, whose leader Beppe Grillo says the nation may have to restructure debt and exit the euro, surpassed 20 percent for the first time in an opinion poll before next spring’s elections.

Support for the comic-turned-politician’s movement rose to 21 percent from 19.4 percent a week ago, a poll by the SWG Institute showed today. That makes it the country’ second-biggest political force after the Democratic Party, or PD, whose support was little changed at 25.9 percent, Trieste, Italy-based SWG said.

Former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party garnered 14.3 percent, down from 15.1 percent in the previous poll. The 5 Star movement opposes Prime Minister Mario Monti’s austerity measures and Grillo has questioned whether Italy should remain in the euro. Discontent among Italians about the government’s domestic policy has sharply risen recently, Monti told reporters in Brussels today after a meeting with his European counterparts.

Monti’s popularity fell to 37 percent from 39 percent last week, today’s poll also showed. The premier’s rating remains above an all-time low of 33 percent recorded in June, SWG said.

Today’s poll follows corruption scandals that toppled the regional government of Lazio, where Rome is located, and the administration in northern area Lombardy, whose capital is Milan. The heads of both regions were elected in 2010 with the support of Berlusconi’s party.

“Recent news of scandals has certainly benefited Grillo’s party,” Maurizio Pessato, vice president of SWG said in an interview. “It will be difficult for 5 Star to go beyond 21 percent between now and the general election in April.”

A key test for Grillo’s group and other parties will come later this month in Sicily, where about 4 million voters will be asked to elect the region’s assembly and government. Grillo, 64, opened his movement’s campaign in the island on Oct. 10 by swimming cross the strait of Messina and is currently touring Sicily ahead of the vote on Oct. 28. In May the 5 star won four mayoral seats in northern Italy, including the city of Parma.

SWG’s poll of 1,100 people was conducted Oct. 16-17 and has a margin of error of 2.96 percent.

-- With assistance from Gregory Viscusi in Brussels and Andrew Frye in Rome. Editors: Dan Liefgreen, Andrew Davis

To contact the reporter on this story: Lorenzo Totaro in Rome at ltotaro@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.ne

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