Monti Fights for Relevance as Italy Voters Eye Entertainers

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, an economics professor who has never won an election, says he’s aware of his handicap in a campaign dominated by entertainers.

“It would be easy to do better than me as far as empathy goes,” Monti said Feb. 6 in an interview televised on La7.

Monti has spent the two-month campaign refining his approach without making headway in opinion polls. He sought advice from David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s campaign strategist, and even adopted a dog on live television. At the same time, three-time Premier Silvio Berlusconi dominated newspaper coverage, and ex-comic Beppe Grillo filled city squares on a nationwide tour.

Monti’s “got no sex appeal as a leader,” said Nicola Marinelli, who oversees $180 million at Glendevon King Asset Management in London. “Most people see him as an intellectual and when he talks about the economy, 95 percent of them don’t understand what he’s saying.”

Monti’s struggles on the stump haven’t eliminated his chances to influence Italy’s next government. The appointed premier, who imposed austerity to shield Italy from Europe’s debt crisis, was running fourth in opinion surveys on Feb. 8, when Italy’s two-week polling blackout began. Still, Monti may get to play kingmaker after the Feb. 24-25 vote.

Monti had 13.4 percent support in a final survey published by SWG Institute, compared with 13.8 percent on Jan. 9. Berlusconi gained 2.5 percentage points to 27.8 percent over the same period, while Grillo rose 2.9 points to 18.8 percent. Poll leader Pier Luigi Bersani, the union-backed Democratic Party candidate, fell 1.1 points to 33.8 percent.

Stagnant Economy

Monti told Italian daily Messaggero in an interview published today that his coalition has “nothing in common” with the forces of either Bersani or Berlusconi and won’t enter into a post-vote alliance unless he agrees with the proposed platform.

Italy’s stagnant economy has handcuffed Monti as a candidate as much as his own inexperience as a politician. The tax increases he implemented helped aggravate a recession that reached six straight quarters in the three months ended Dec. 31. His opponents have promised to ease the fiscal burden and dismantle Monti’s legacy.

Italian 10-year bond yields declined 3 basis points to 4.38 percent at 10:20 a.m. in Rome. That compares with a euro-era record of 7.261 percent on Nov. 25, 2011, in Monti’s second week as head of government.

‘Desperate’ Monti

In the campaign’s closing week, Monti has pushed for a televised debate to give himself a forum to rebut the tax-cut appeals of his rivals. His bid was met with silence by Bersani and with derision by Berlusconi, who said it showed weakness. Canale 5, a television network that sought to organize a confrontation, said a debate won’t take place.

“I get that Monti is desperate,” Berlusconi said yesterday in an interview on RTL radio. There is a possibility that the coalition led by Monti “won’t even get representation in parliament,” Berlusconi said.

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