A CISE survey published in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore on Sunday found that the country’s left-wing leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, is in the lead to win the premiership.
Incumbent prime minister Mario Monti, who has announced he will contest February’s election leading a coalition of centrist parties, places second. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is in third place.
Berlusconi, who hopes to return to government for a fourth time, has managed boost support for his right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà in recent weeks with a fierce anti-German campaign and overtaken comic Beppe Grillo’s Euroskeptic Five Star movement as the third party in the polls.
Many Italians blame Germany for the austerity measures Monti has imposed on them.
On Saturday, Berlusconi accused his successor of plotting with the left, but centrist leaders deny an accord.
“Our initiative was not born with the support of the PD,” said Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the Christian Democrats, referring to Bersani’s Democratic Party. “Until election day what’s important is aiming for the majority.”
Even if the left wins a majority of the seats in the lower house of parliament, Bersani will probably need the support of centrist parties in the Senate to form a government.
Both the Democrats and Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà backed Monti’s reforms until the latter withdrew its support in December.
The left has pledged to continue Monti’s program, but with a stronger emphasis on job growth.
Berlusconi has promised to scrap an unpopular property tax and threatened to leave the euro unless Germany responds to Italian demands.
“Either Germany understands that the ECB must act as a real central bank and therefore print money or unfortunately we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our currency,” he said in a television interview two weeks ago.
Few Italians want to leave the euro, but Monti’s austerity program is even less popular, even if its effect has been lackluster.
The former European commissioner has managed to shrink the deficit by raising taxes and reducing spending, but labor reforms were watered down under pressure from the left while attempts to liberalize industries met fierce resistance from entrenched business interests.
Monti nevertheless enjoys the support of the business community as well as the nation’s Catholic Church.
Berlusconi’s support is strongest in the south, which has traditionally lagged behind the rest of the country.