Greek polls show Samaras is running out of time

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s effort to overhaul opposition SYRIZA party’s lead before elections in less than three weeks is running out of steam, polls show.

SYRIZA is on course to get 31.6 percent of votes in the Jan. 25 ballot, compared with 28.6 percent for the premier’s New Democracy, according to a survey by Alco, an Athens-based polling company, for To Pontiki newspaper on Thursday. That represents a narrowing of SYRIZA’s lead from 3.3 percentage points in the last survey, published Dec. 27, and both parties have gained at the expense of smaller rivals, with third-placed Potami now at 4.2 percent.

SYRIZA’s lead over New Democracy “has narrowed slightly,” Costas Panagopoulos, Alco’s CEO, said in a phone interview. “But it’s a solid lead which won’t be overturned easily.”

Samaras faces an uphill task to be re-elected in this month’s snap ballot, after failing to get a three-fifths majority of lawmakers in the country’s 300-seat Parliament to back his pick to fill the country’s ceremonial presidency. Greeks worn down by years of austerity are turning to SYRIZA, which says it wants to roll back budget cuts and write down some of Greece’s debt.

The Alco poll was one of three published since late Wednesday, each showing SYRIZA with a lead of at least three points. A GPO survey for Mega Channel put SYRIZA, led by Alexis Tsipras, at 28.5 percent and New Democracy at 25.3 percent, while a Pulse poll for Action24 website had SYRIZA at 29 percent and New Democracy at 25.5 percent.

Forced out

In the GPO poll, 75.7 percent of respondents said Greece should stay in the euro area at any cost, while 59.2 percent said there’s still a danger the country may be forced out. Yet 52.6 percent said they thought if debt relief talks between a new government and the country’s euro-area partners are set on a collision course, the creditors will blink and accept Greek demands.

Those numbers highlight the difficulty for Samaras, who in a speech yesterday evening again said that a government led by SYRIZA risks leading the country out of the euro.

“The fear tactic of a Greek euro exit is increasing Samaras’s numbers, but at the same time the reaction to the current government’s policies is boosting SYRIZA,” said Alco’s Panagopoulos.

Papandreou Party

All three polls showed the Movement of Democratic Socialists, founded by former Prime Minister George Papandreou on January 3 after he broke from PASOK, the party founded by his father Andreas, failing to get into parliament. Alco put his support at 2.5 percent, less than the 3 percent minimum threshold, compared with 3.6 percent for PASOK.

“It seems that it’s a party which is going to get 1 to 3 percent,” Nikos Marantzidis, a pollster and professor of political science at the University of Macedonia in the northern city of Thessaloniki, said last week, before Papandreou’s announcement. “For symbolic, historical, organizational or other reasons, it may get more votes than expected, maybe 3 to 5 percent. In that case, it will surely get voters from SYRIZA. If it gets less than 3 percent, only PASOK will be damaged.”