Italy's populist opposition party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), would win the next general election against the ruling Democratic Party (PD) of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, according to a survey published Friday.
The data from the Demos institute, released by La Repubblica newspaper, come in the wake of last week's Brexit referendum - seen as a boost for populist forces across Europe - and June local election wins for the M5S, who clinched mayors in Rome and Turin.
Support for the M5S was estimated at 32.3 per cent, against 30.2 per cent for the PD. Right-wing opposition forces were far behind, with the anti-migrant Northern League on 11.8 per cent and Forza Italia of former premier Silvio Berlusconi on 11.5 per cent.
Such a strong national poll lead is unprecedented for the party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo. According to Termometro Politico, a website that compiles opinion polls averages, in the June 19-25 period, the PD was still ahead by a 0.8-2.8 percentage point margin.
Demos simulated a run-off vote between the M5S and the PD, which would be required if no party wins at least 40 per cent of the vote in the next general elections. The M5S would win the contest with 54.7 per cent against 45.3 per cent for the PD, the institute said.
It also said the M5S' likely prime ministerial candidate, Luigi Di Maio, was the country's most popular politician, attracting 41 per cent of favourable opinions. Renzi's popularity was stuck at a record low of 40 per cent, down from a peak of 74 per cent two years ago.
Negative polling trends are particularly worrying for Renzi as he prepares for a key referendum battle in October over constitutional reforms. He has promised to resign if defeated, and has warned that without the proposed reforms the country would become ungovernable.