October 10, 2018 / 5:49 PM / 2 months ago

Italians warm to their 'Mr Nobody' PM Conte, polls show

ROME (Reuters) - When Giuseppe Conte was named prime minister in June, very few Italians had ever heard of him, yet his approval ratings have climbed steadily and he is now the country’s most popular active politician, opinion polls show.

FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte delivers a news conference following the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal/File Photo

An Ipsos poll published on Saturday gave Conte an approval index of 67, above those of any of his recent predecessors as premier, and also above his more high-profile deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio.

Salvini, who leads the right-wing Northern League, got a rating of 57, while Di Maio, head of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, was on 52. Their government meanwhile was also riding high in the ratings.

Other recent surveys by pollsters Demos&Pi and GPF have shown similar results, suggesting Italians appreciate the more measured tones of the 54-year-old lawyer who is close to 5-Star but is not a member of either party.

Conte got off to a difficult start, with accusations he had inflated his academic credentials and a faltering maiden speech in parliament blighting his first weeks in office. He said he had made no false claims and the furor was soon forgotten.

He has since grown into the job and seems increasingly comfortable and sure-footed with the media, always formally dressed in suit and tie and speaking in clipped, nasal tones.

“Conte was a Mr Nobody when he arrived but he has carved out a fundamental role as a political bridge-builder,” said Francesco Galietti, head of the Rome-based political risk consultancy Policy Sonar.

“He has managed to strike a balance between institutional dos and don’ts on the one hand, and the anti-establishment ‘animal spirits’ of the ruling coalition on the other.”

The Ipsos poll showed Conte was also more popular than the government as a whole, which still enjoyed a high approval rating of 64.

The combined voter support for the ruling League and 5-Star stood at 62.3 percent, while the center-left Democratic Party, the country’s main opposition, languished on 17.1 percent.

“More than 100 days after the government was formed, its honeymoon period is consolidating,” said Ipsos Italia chief Nando Pagnoncelli.

“That consolidation is based not only on the (government’s) measures, but on voter sentiment, on a changed mood in the country.”

Editing by Alison Williams

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