The recent deterioration in the political climate has harmed the government’s image and widened the gap between the main opposition New Democracy (ND) and ruling PASOK parties, according to a nationwide phone poll by the RASS polling firm, which indicates that the main opposition has increased its lead over PASOK to 9.8 percentage points. At the end of March, an MRB poll put ND 7.9 percent ahead of PASOK; another by Metron Analysis in early April found the gap to be 6.5 percent. The latest poll was carried out in the wake of recent accusations that government officials had engaged in irregular activities, Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s decision to postpone any action on the issue until after the end of Greece’s rotating presidency of the European Union, and a wide range of economic problems. It also put ND leader Costas Karamanlis 0.7 percent ahead of Simitis as the people’s choice for prime minister, particularly interesting given Simitis’s leadership image cultivated during his tenure of the EU presidency. Generally, ND is viewed as being more able to manage the country’s affairs, with the exception of foreign affairs, where PASOK retains its advantage. Apart from the political scandals and accusations of entangled interests that were considered very important by 60 percent of those polled, most of the public’s concern is focused on economic issues such as unemployment, social security and rising prices, as well as health and education. Foreign Minister George Papandreou is the voters’ choice for «the most suitable person for prime minister apart from the current political party leaders,» with 26.1 percent. Second is Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni with 17.5 percent. The high degree of allegiance (90.7 percent, compared to PASOK’s 63.7 percent) among ND’s electoral base is one of the main reasons for its lead. One in 10 people who voted for PASOK in the last elections is now planning to vote for ND, and 7.9 percent for one of the other parties. According to the poll, only the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) is likely to gain the required 3 percent for representation in Parliament. ND is seen as more capable of wiping out corruption in the public sector, although one in three people polled said they believed neither of the two major parties was capable of dealing with these phenomena. Political campaigns appear to affect the decisions of fewer than half the electorate to vote for a particular party. More influential are transparency and honesty in carrying out government policy and candidates’ ability and experience. Just over 71.4 percent said they were influenced by the party leader and 59.7 percent by the party’s ideological platform. Country’s problems Over 90 percent saw health, education, unemployment and the high cost of living as the «most serious» problems facing the country; 76.3 percent opted for terrorism, 65 percent for political scandals and 52.1 percent for the Olympic Games. As the country enters the final year of the current government’s term, transparency and honesty in exercising government policy appear to be the main factors that will influence voters in next year’s elections, according to the poll. Disillusionment with PASOK’s political ethos will cause 29.9 percent of voters to deny the ruling party their vote; another 27.2 percent cite dissatisfaction with the way it exercises power.