By Angelo Amante and Rodolfo Fabbri
ROME (Reuters) - Self-employed people and Catholics helped power Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party to electoral victory on Sunday, surveys show, with a significant share of women voters putting her on course to be Italy's first female prime minister.
With almost all results counted, Brothers of Italy led with around 26% of the vote, up from 4% in the last national election in 2018, and was by far the biggest party in the victorious conservative alliance.
Meloni's party received almost 5.9 million votes more than the 2018 elections, a YouTrend post-electoral study shows, roughly the same number its League and Forza Italia allies lost compared to last time. A survey by SWG says half of Meloni's backers had switched from her partners.
SWG says Meloni was first choice among independent workers. Some 32% of the country's over 5 million self-employed voters chose Brothers of Italy, with the League and Forza Italia still well supported by that group.
"The self-employed have moved in a substantial way from the League to Brothers of Italy," Rado Fonda, political analyst at SWG, told Reuters.
Brothers of Italy, which traces its roots to a post-fascist party, supplanted the League in the wealthy north, getting more than twice the number of votes in the key Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont regions, where Matteo Salvini's party has its historical strongholds.
Angelo Bruschi, an autonomous worker living in Lombardy's capital Milan, switched from the League to Brothers of Italy. He said he hopes Meloni will cut taxes and the red tape affecting the country.
"These are key issues for us and Meloni is committed to them," the 73-year-old property manager told Reuters.
A voting analysis by polling institute Ixe showed Brothers of Italy got around 29% of the Catholic vote, followed by the centre-left Democratic Party which received about 17%.
"I am a practising Catholic and I agree with Meloni's traditional view on the family," Bruschi said, adding that her political and economic views had driven his electoral choice.
The SWG survey showed Brothers of Italy was well supported by voters facing financial difficulties, with the left-leaning 5-Star Movement also drawing heavily from this group.
Meloni also got 27% of female votes, the SWG survey says, more than any other party, although abstention was particularly significant among women, with more than one third of them deserting the polls in an election where turnout was low.
Beatrice Carcano, a 26-year-old from Paderno Dugnano, close to Milan, said she switched from Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia to Brothers of Italy because Meloni is "smart, very determined and charismatic".
"The fact that she could become the first female prime minister also influenced my decision," she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Rodolfo Fabbri, editing by ed Osmond)