If you believe Italy's billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he's the most popular leader in the world—a claim he "proves" using his own media and his influence over state television. According to certain Berlusconi-controlled polling sources, his approval rating is more than 75 percent, besting even Barack Obama (at 65 percent). "Only Lula [da Silva, of Brazil] tops 60 percent ... so mine is a record high," crowed Berlusconi on a recent business trip to Naples. Unfortunately, independent polls don't concur: they put the Italian leader somewhere between 40 and 60 percent, according to Ispos and IPR marketing, respectively.
Still, that's shockingly high, given that doctoring one's polls would probably get a leader canned in most of the rest of Europe. The question is, how does Berlusconi, 70, and now in his third term, survive all his multiple political offenses? There are the accusations that Berlusconi tailored laws so that he and his accomplices in government could avoid corruption charges. There's the revelation that he paid his accountant $600,000 in exchange for not testifying against him in court in the late 1990s. And there are his multiple rumored affairs—including one with an 18-year-old underwear model in Naples—that have his wife of 19 years crying divorce. But even though the opposition keeps calling for him to resign, they don't stand a real chance of knocking Berlusconi from his pedestal any time soon. After all, his media controls their image in the eyes of the voters just as much as Berlusconi's own.