Poll shows increased backing for Freedom People movement, with less than half of Italians believing PM should resign

It has shocked and titillated newspaper readers the world over, but it would seem the latest scandal over Italian Primr Minister Silvio Berlusconi's riotous private life has done nothing to undermine his supporters' faith in him.

A poll published on Sunday by Corriere della Sera found backing for his Freedom People movement was higher than a month earlier, and less than half of Italians believed he should resign.

The survey was conducted last week, as controversy raged over the findings of an investigation by prosecutors in Milan, which had been delivered to Parliament on December 17. These included claims by a participant that Mr. Berlusconi hosted a party for more than 20 women that turned into an orgy.

Italy's Prime Minister is formally suspected of paying an underage prostitute and trying to cover it up by exerting pressure on the police. Prosecutors say a nightclub dancer, Karima “Ruby” el-Mahroug, 17 at the time, visited Mr. Berlusconi eight times at his villa near Milan last year.

Yet the poll found that, if an election was held immediately, more than 30 per cent of voters would support his party, compared with less than 28 per cent in December. Mr. Berlusconi's Freedom People movement, together with its main ally, the Northern League, could garner almost 41 per cent.

Renato Mannheimer, the head of the company that conducted the poll, said “even the Catholic electorate ... does not appear to have significantly altered its preferences”.

Many of the Prime Minister's critics will see the results as a reflection of his power to influence voters through the media.

On the day the investigation's findings were released, one of his television channels relegated the story to third place on the evening news. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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