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League's Salvini is Italy's real leader, poll finds

FILE PHOTO: Interior Minister Matteo Salvini attends a news conference after a cabinet meeting at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy, October 20 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - Most Italians view Matteo Salvini, the outspoken leader of the anti-immigrant League party, as the real head of government, with just one in six casting Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in that role, a poll showed on Friday.

The monthly survey in La Repubblica newspaper showed 58 percent considered Salvini the leader, while 16 percent picked Conte and 14 percent chose Luigi Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Salvini and Di Maio are deputy prime ministers in Conte’s coalition government, which took office in June and which the Demos poll found that 58 percent of respondents support.

Salvini enjoys a massive presence on social media, radio and television, employing them all to push his party’s populist, anti-immigrant policies.

His has also been the most uncompromising voice of authority emerging from Rome during a standoff with Brussels over a 2019 budget that EU authorities have said violates the bloc’s rules and told the government to rework.

Salvini also took over from Conte as Italy’s most popular politician, polling a 60 percent approval rating in October, the same as in September. The prime minister’s rating fell to 59 percent from 61 percent.

A majority of opposition party voters said they considered Salvini the real leader of the government, including 70 percent of the Democratic Party and 51 percent of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Even among 5-Star members, 35 percent named Salvini as the real leader, just two percent fewer than Di Maio.

Overall confidence in the government edged down from 62 percent in September.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet