The right-wing coalition, which includes Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is forecast to pocket 46 percent of the vote.
The left, lead by the Democratic Party (PD), looks set to win 28.5 percent, while the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) could take 13 percent, according to a YouTrend poll before a pre-voting embargo.
In a startling move, PD head Enrico Letta admitted defeat this week, but urged undecided voters to choose his party or risk handing the right the landslide victory that would allow it to change the constitution.
“I’m going to vote for Meloni,” 55-year old lawyer Bernardo, who did not want to provide his surname, told AFP, saying he wanted “to teach the PD a lesson” for a negative campaign based on “hating others”.
‘God, country, family’
The snap election was called following Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s resignation in July after three parties in his coalition pulled support, plunging Italy into uncertainty as it faced inflation and a record drought.
The right-wing coalition has pledged extremely expensive solutions to the energy and cost of living crisis in the eurozone’s third biggest economy — without explaining how they will be paid for.
The EU has earmarked almost 200 billion euros in post-pandemic recovery funds for Italy, which has the second highest public debt in the euro zone.
Meloni, 45, who has cultivated a straight-talking, tough persona, said she would renegotiate that deal, which is contingent on Italy carrying out a series of reforms.
The leftist alliance insists the money is at risk should the right win.
In 2018 elections, Brothers of Italy secured just over four percent of the vote, but is now polling at 24 percent despite being a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
EXPLAINED: Who’s who in Italy’s general election?
Meloni has wooed Italians with her motto of “God, country and family”, stealing support from once-popular Salvini, who analysts say sealed his own political fate by botching a power-grab in 2019
‘Still margin for surprise’
She has pledged to cut taxes and bureaucracy, raise defence spending, close Italy’s borders to protect the country from “Islamisation”, renegotiate European treaties to return more power to Rome, and fight “LGBT lobbies”.
A rightist victory would present a “big risk” to the EU, Letta said in August, as there had “never been a major European country governed by political forces so clearly against the idea of a community of Europe”.
The right suffers deep divisions over the Russian invasion, with Meloni supporting sending weapons to Ukraine, while Salvini — a longtime admirer of President Vladimir Putin — is against sanctions.
The left and centre want to carry on where pro-European Draghi will leave off. But this call for continuity is less persuasive to impoverished, anxious voters in debt-laden Italy than a pledge to change, analysts say.
There is “still a margin for surprise”, Italian political theorist Nadia Urbinati told the Domani newspaper Thursday, particularly considering about 20 percent of eligible voters are still undecided, polls show.
Find all the latest news on Italy’s election race here.