ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's conservative opposition has gained more support over the debt-laden country's socialist government after the legislative passage of new five-year austerity measures, an opinion poll showed on Thursday.
Polling company VPRC said the lead of Antonis Samaras's New Democracy party over Prime Minister George Papandreou's PASOK party was the largest it had recorded since the socialists came to power in October 2009 in snap elections.
But, at just 4 percentage points, the small lead shows the opposition conservatives have yet to capitalize on the unpopularity of the government's cost-cutting and tax-hiking measures, VPRC scientific adviser Christoforos Vernardakis said.
"People still remember the tenure of New Democracy before PASOK took over. There is huge disaffection with both parties, together they muster just 55 percent of people's voting preference, a collapse from more than 85 percent seen in 2004," Vernardakis said.
Some 29.5 percent of those who were polled between July 5 and July 7 and would vote for a party said they would opt for New Democracy, versus 25.5 percent for PASOK, a difference within the margin of statistical error, VPRC said.
The 4 percentage point lead is greater than in VPRC's previous poll in June, when the difference was 2.5 percentage points. In the July poll, 38.6 percent of those polled said they would abstain or cast a black or invalid vote.
VPRC's latest poll was carried out after the Greek parliament voted through a deeply unpopular 28-billion-euro five-year austerity and privatization plan at the end of June that sparked bloody demonstrations and sit-ins outside the Greek parliament.
Public anger against politicians prompted Panadreou last week to warn that violent protests against spending cuts to satisfy international lenders threatened to lead to the kind of barbarism that in the past had derailed democracy in Greece.
Euro zone officials are debating how to fund a new financial aid package for Greece, with the possibility of credit rating agencies declaring a selective default as one of the options being considered.
This could pose a new challenge for Papandreou, who would have to convince a skeptical Greek public that this would be in the country's best interests after having repeatedly stated that the Mediterranean country would not go into default.
In VPRC's latest poll, 78 percent of those questioned said things in Greece were heading in the wrong direction, compared with 82 percent in June, a small difference that does not demonstrate a real improvement in sentiment, Vernardakis said. (Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis)