Portugal government hammered in poll after tax rises

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 20, 2012 6:30 AM
Portugal government hammered in poll after tax rises

LISBON (Reuters) - The popularity of Portugal's ruling Social Democrats has plummeted 12 percentage points to a record low for this administration after its deeply unpopular tax hikes, an opinion poll published on Thursday showed.

The poll, in daily Diario de Noticias, also showed increased support for small parties on the left, which oppose the country's IMF/European Union bailout and the austerity measures that come with it.

Portugal had managed to comply with the bailout with relatively little opposition but mass protests against austerity have erupted since the government announced on September 7 a rise in social security contributions for all workers to 18 percent from 11 percent in 2013. That undermined the political consensus which until then was in support of Portugal's 78 billion euro ($101.85 billion) EU/IMF bailout.

The poll also found that nearly half of those surveyed, 48 percent, said they thought there was a high probability that Portugal would "live through a situation identical to Greece," in the next one to two years. In the previous poll, 34 percent thought that scenario was likely.

Greece's debt crisis has sent the country into recession for five years and stirred up mass social protests. Portugal has so far only been in recession for two years and strikes and protests have been infrequent, although unemployment is at record highs.

But hundreds of thousands of Portuguese took to the streets to demonstrate against the tax hikes on Saturday in the biggest public protest since the country received its bailout last year.

Austerity has pushed Portugal into its worst recession since the 1970s but the government insists there is no alternative. It has said it is willing to "calibrate" the tax rise, but said alternative austerity moves would also hurt consumption.

In the poll, the ruling Social Democrats received 24 percent support, down from 36 percent in June, putting the party far behind the opposition Socialists.

But the poll came as a warning to all the main political parties, as the Socialists also slipped, to 31 percent from 33 percent. Instead, the anti-bailout parties gained, with the Communists rising to 13 percent support from 9 percent and the Left Bloc gaining to 11 percent from 9 percent.

The rightist CDS party, which governs together with the Social Democrats in a coalition, gained slightly to 7 percent from 6 percent. Some analysts have said the government's tax hikes have strained the coalition because of the CDS' traditional opposition to higher taxes.

The poll in Diario de Noticias was carried out by pollsters at Lisbon's Catholic University on September 15-17. It surveyed 1,132 people and had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

(Reporting By Axel Bugge. Editing by Jane Merriman)