Beppe Grillo and Matteo Renzi could go head to head in Italy
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by comedian-come-activist Beppe Grillo, received a boost to their support after Mr Renzi quit as PM ollowing a failed referendum on constitutional reform last year.
Now a general election is believed to be held this June, instead of March 2018 when Mr Renzi’s five-year-term would have originally been up.
And Five Star, who have promised a referendum on membership of the Eurozone, plan on benefiting from the split in the ruling Democratic Party (PD) and division in the centre-right.
Beppe Grillo is the comedian turned activist at the head of 5-Star
The Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper put the party on 32.3 per cent – its highest ever reading and 5.5 points ahead of the PD, which was on 26.8 per cent.
The third-largest party was the anti-immigrant Northern League on 12.8 per cent, with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) on 12.7 per cent.
But Italy is still trying to draw up a new electoral law, based on some form of proportional representation that would reward a stable majority to any group that wins at least 40 per cent of the vote.
Italy in crisis Wed, November 16, 2016
Express Pictures reports on the variety of crisis' in Italy during 2016.
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The Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper put 5-Star on 32.3 per cent – its highest ever reading
While none of the parties currently have enough support to reach that threshold, the Ipsos poll suggests both the centre-left and centre-right blocs would fall well short – leaving the Five Star in the driving seat.
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However the group has also repeatedly ruled out forming an alliance with other groups; move which could see Italy facing political instability following the next national election.
But the country is already facing divide, as the PD threatens to split following a rebellion among Democrat members.
Matteo Renzi stood down after losing a referendum on constitutional reform
Following Mr Renzi’s resignation last December, Paolo Gentiloni became the new prime minister – but the former PM revealed he would be seeking re-election at a party congress in April or May.
A boycott was then proposed in protest against the announcement, with former House whip Robert Sperenza and former leader PierLuigi Bersani refusing the attend the event.
While Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and two other members, Gianni Cuperlo and Cesare Damiano, also called on the party to form a new branch "to reform the party”.
Now the PD appears to be paying the price for its internal feuds, as it dropped more than three percentage points in a month.
The five Star Movement secured its highest ever rating in the polls
The shock polls comes just a month after Mr Grillo claimed he was “proud to be a populist” and called on the Italian public to “say no” in an impassioned interview.
Mr Grillo said: “I’ve got no voice, I’m being consumed by passion. I'm a comedian. You have to understand that my brain doesn't work like a politician's brain.
“I think about something, then the next day I say something else. It’s a very beautiful word, populism. I'm proud to be a populist.”
When asked if he will win at the next general election, he told the reporter: “Absolutely, yes! Now kiss me…. Kiss me. I can tell you can't resist. Kiss me.”