Three of five Austrians want strong man as leader: poll

VIENNA Fri Mar 8, 2013 6:58pm EST

Spectators are illuminated with the colours of the Austrian flag during the opening ceremony of the World Alpine Skiing Championships in Schladming February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Spectators are illuminated with the colours of the Austrian flag during the opening ceremony of the World Alpine Skiing Championships in Schladming February 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Three out of five Austrians want a "strong man" to lead the country and two out of five think things were not all bad under Adolf Hitler, according to a survey released on Friday.

Timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary next week of Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, the Market Institut poll for newspaper Der Standard found 61 percent of respondents, mostly the elderly - liked the idea of a strong man as leader.

That was more than in previous polls. One in 2008 found just a fifth of Austrians could imagine having "a strong leader who does not have to worry about a parliament or elections", the paper said.

Many Austrians wanted a union, or Anschluss, with Germany in 1938, but several maintained for decades afterwards that their country was Hitler's first victim despite the cheering crowds that greeted the Nazi leader.

A few Austrians put up resistance that grew over time.

In the latest poll, 53 percent thought the "Anschluss" was voluntary and 46 percent saw Austria as a victim.

Only 15 percent of the 502 people surveyed thought Austria should have fought annexation, while 42 percent thought a war with Germany would have made matters worse and 43 percent said it would have made no difference.

Forty-two percent said "not everything was bad under Hitler" while 57 percent saw no good aspects to the Hitler era.

The poll suggests Austria's centrist coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives faces a substantial proportion of voters skeptical about the democratic principles the neutral country has espoused since World War Two.

Polls show right-wing parties are poised to do well in elections due by September, although the coalition parties remain in the lead.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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