Socialists Rise Slightly After Leader Elections-Polls

Support for Greece’s Socialist party has risen slightly following the election of a new leader of the party this month, three public opinion polls showed Saturday, but the conservative New Democracy party continues to hold a wide lead over their rivals.

However, the three polls–in the RealNews, Ethnos and To Vima newspapers–confirmed recent polling trends showing that Greeks continue to shun the country’s two main parties and that the next elections will likely produce a highly fragmented parliament of between eight and 10 parties, up from five currently.

According to the polls, the conservative New Democracy party remains on track to win the largest portion of the vote with support ranging between 24.8% and 25.5% of the vote, after excluding undecided or abstaining voters. A third poll in To Vima, which includes the undecided vote, shows New Democracy with 18.1% support.

The Socialists would receive between 15.2% and 18.4% of the vote–not including undecided voters–and 14.3% without adjusting for the undecided voters. All three polls showed electoral support for the Socialists rising between 1.7 and 4.5 percentage points in the past several weeks and after the party elected former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos as party leader earlier this month.

No date has been set, but Greece is expected to hold general elections in late April or early May to replace the current caretaker government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, which is currently backed by the two main parties–the Socialists and New Democracy.

But the two parties combined still command less than half of the vote. And despite a 50-seat bonus awarded to the leading party under Greece’s electoral system, the polls show that New Democracy wouldn’t have enough votes to command an absolute majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament.

Instead, a coalition government would likely be necessary for the next government to follow through on promised reforms to continue to qualify for a new EUR130 billion ($172 billion) bailout package from international lenders. By June, the new government will have to detail more than EUR11 billion in budget cuts to cover expected shortfalls in 2013 and 2014. But past coalition governments in Greece have been short-lived and there are open fears in other European capitals that a weak, multi-party government may not be able to press ahead with those reforms.

According to the RealNews poll, as many as 10 political parties could clear a minimum 3% threshold of voter support and be represented in the next parliament–ranging from the anti-euro Communist Party of Greece to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. The other polls show at least eight parties entering parliament.

Among them are two newcomer parties–the Democratic Left and the right-wing Independent Greeks–that have shown meteoric rise in the past few weeks. Both would command around 9% to 10% of the vote, the polls showed.
However, all three polls also showed that support for the smaller left- and right-wing parties has slipped slightly in recent weeks, suggesting that some voters were returning to the two mainstream parties as the elections approach.

They also showed that Greeks continued to resist the austerity measures that have accompanied Greece’s first and second bailout programs and most respondents hold a bleak outlook for the country. But the polls also showed continued widespread support for Greece to remain within the euro zone.

According to the poll in To Vima, 47.4% of Greeks think that the austerity measures have been a mistake, while the RealNews poll showed 63.2% thought the Greece was still likely to default despite those belt-tightening measures. But both polls also showed about 76% of Greeks support the country sticking with the euro.
(source: Ethnos, To Vima, RealNews, Dow Jones)