The decision by Prime Minister Costas Simitis to resign as leader of PASOK in favor of George Papandreou, the foreign minister, has changed the political climate, making more people believe that PASOK may still beat New Democracy in the March 7 elections. A nationwide telephone poll conducted between Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, from when it became clear that Simitis would resign the party leadership in favor of Papandreou, found that 51.4 percent of the 1,751 people polled believed New Democracy will win the elections, with 38.9 percent saying PASOK would win. The 12.5 percent difference in expectations of who the winner will be was down from 30 percent found in a poll last month. Also, among people who voted for PASOK in 2000, 65.6 percent said they expected the party to win the elections, whereas less than half had expected it before. The poll, conducted by MRB, was published by Kathimerini yesterday. Asked to name who they thought would make the most capable prime minister, 33.2 percent picked ND leader Costas Karamanlis and 31.5 percent chose Papandreou, while another 11.3 chose Simitis and 4.6 percent Athens Mayor (and ND cadre) Dora Bakoyannis. Another telephone poll (published by Ethnos yesterday and conducted by Metron Analysis) suggested that 44.6 percent saw Papandreou as the more fitting candidate for prime minister, followed by Karamanlis with 40.2 percent. «We can say that the political climate has changed,» polling expert Ilias Nikolakopoulos said on Mega Channel. He noted that telephone polls were not allowed to show voters’ intentions. ND has enjoyed an 8 percent lead opinion surveys over more than a year. The MRB poll found that 88.3 percent of people who voted for PASOK in 2000 saw the handover from Simitis to Papandreou as a positive or quite positive development. The election campaign got under way in earnest this weekend. Karamanlis spoke to a party gathering in Halandri on Saturday and to young people in Ilion yesterday. Papandreou visited his ancestral village of Kalentzi near Patras in the Peloponnese on Saturday and attended a meeting of people with kidney ailments yesterday. Former minister Alekos Papadopoulos said he would reconsider his decision not to stand for re-election.