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Berlusconi Narrows Bersani Gap to Error Margin, Poll Shows

Head of Italy's Democratic Party Pier Luigi Bersani
Head of Italy's Democratic Party Pier Luigi Bersani gestures during a news conference in Rome. Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowed the lead of front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani to within the margin of error of an opinion poll for the first time before Feb. 24-25 elections.

The gap between the two narrowed 0.3 percentage points from yesterday to 3.7 points, according to a daily tracking poll by Tecne institute for SkyTG24. The survey has a margin error of 4 percentage points. Tecne had Bersani leading by 14 percentage points on Jan. 2.

Berlusconi has been gaining on Bersani as he steps up his promises to cuts taxes and end a reviled levy on first homes implemented by the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti that he sustained in power. Monti has accused Berlusconi of trying to buy the election.

Support for the 76-year billionaire’s coalition, including his People of Liberty Party and the Northern League, rose 0.1 percentage points to 29.4 percent, while backing of Bersani’s center-left coalition fell 0.2 percentage points to 33.1 percent, Tecne also said.

“The main risk could come from a combination of a hung Parliament in Italy and a worsening in the political situation in Spain because of recent political scandals,” Barclays economists including Fabio Fois said in a note yesterday.

Losing Ground

Bersani’s bloc is losing ground amid Berlusconi’s media blitz and a derivatives scandal at lender Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, which traditionally has strong links with the Democratic Party. The signing of Mario Balotelli to his AC Milan soccer club may have also helped Berlusconi, who is appealing a tax fraud conviction he received in October.

A separate poll by Ipsos for RAI3’s “Ballaro” television program released late yesterday said the gap between the two blocs narrowed to 8.7 percentage points from last week, when it was 10.8 points.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo is also gaining ground as he organizes rallies around Italy, appealing to voters weary of austerity and government corruption. Support for his movement rose 0.2 points to 16.3 percent, while backing for Monti has dropped 0.4 points to 12.6 percent and former prosecutor Antonio Ingroia’s Civil Revolution party is now at 5.2 percent. Tecne reported 33.5 percent of respondents as undecided or planning to abstain in the vote.

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