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FILE PHOTO: Forza Italia party leader Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves after the news conference about the Lombardy autonomy referendums in Milan, Italy, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo/File Photo


ROME (Reuters) - Italy's ruling Democratic Party (PD) has lost support following its flop in a regional election in Sicily, while Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) has gained ground, according to a poll released on Thursday.

National elections must be held by next May, with all recent opinion polls suggesting that it will end in a hung parliament.

IXE pollsters said backing for the centre-left PD, which is led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, dropped to 23.8 percent, down 3.6 percentage points from its last survey in mid-October.

The PD slump enabled the maverick 5-Star Movement to establish itself firmly as Italy's most popular party, climbing to 27.9 percent from a previous 27.2 percent.

Forza Italia moved into third spot, rising to 15.5 percent from 13.6 percent and jumping ahead of its long-time ally, the far-right Northern League, which dropped 1.6 percentage points to 13.5 percent.

Under the terms of an electoral law approved last month, which allows the creation of multi-party coalitions ahead of the national elections, the centre-right bloc is expected to emerge from the ballot box as the biggest single force.

The bloc won a regional vote in Sicily on Nov. 5, with the victory seen as a personal triumph for Berlusconi, who used the ballot to revive his political career after years of graft trials, sex scandals and ill-health.

The 5-Star came second on the Mediterranean island, with the PD limping in a distant third.

Renzi's party has been beset by feuding and looks unlikely to reach any pre-election pact with myriad leftist groups, which have accused him of pushing the PD too far to the left.

The IXE poll suggested the centre-right would take a combined 33.8 percent of the vote. The bloc leaders have said whichever party wins the most votes will decide who should be its prime ministerial candidate.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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