COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark’s centre-right opposition has frittered away a 17-point lead and now lags in opinion polls just 10 days ahead of a national election, with pundits saying many voters have lost faith in former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.
For the first time since 2011, the centre-right bloc, led by Rasmussen’s Liberals, is behind the centre-left coalition led by Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats, a poll of polls showed on Monday.
Rasmussen led the country for two and a half years before losing a 2011 election, but, in opposition, his party was consistently ahead in opinion polls, until now. Pollsters said a bad start to the campaign and credibility questions after a series of low-level scandals a year ago have damaged the party.
The Liberal Party stands to get 20 percent of the vote in a weighted average of recent polls, against 26.2 percent for the Social Democrats. The centre-right bloc can expect 49.5 percent compared with 50.5 percent for the ruling parties.
“It used to be natural for the Liberals to have about 30 percent of the votes, but that has changed since the first credibility stories about (Rasmussen) came out in the media,” said Casper Jensen, head of research at pollster Megafon.
“There is no doubt that he himself is the reason people give as to why they have changed who they will vote for.” Rasmussen’s woes began on the first day of the election campaign when the media queried his account of a business owner telling him that one of his workers had said he would prefer to be raking in generous unemployment benefits than to have a job.
Journalists raced to find the business owner but were unable to track him down, leading them to question the story’s veracity. The businessman eventually confirmed it was true, but not before damage was inflicted on Rasmussen’s reputation.
“Lokke (Rasmussen) creates panic! Faith in victory is crumbling,”, conservative-leaning tabloid BT said on its front page.
Rasmussen was widely expected to resign a year ago after newspapers said he had used party funds to buy clothes. The previous year, media said he spent 1 million Danish crowns ($150,000) on first class flights as chairman of an institute partly funded by the state.
The party defended his spending on clothing and money spent on flights for his family members was eventually paid back.
There has been no suggestion that Rasmussen’s spending broke the law, but his decision not to step down disappointed some Liberal party members.
While the Social Democrats are only just now catching up in the polls, Thorning-Schmidt’s popularity is much stronger than Rasmussen‘s. A poll from Megafon from late May showed 49 percent would prefer her as prime minister compared with 38 percent for Rasmussen.
Additional reporting by Teis Jensen; Editing by Sabina Zawadzki and Robin Pomeroy