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Could someone explain me why the following phrase uses the bolded to instead of (to my opinion) by? (This phrase has been extracted from a newspaper article.)

Mr Bersani’s PD has been leading in the polls ever since the election was called but, thanks in part to a proliferation of parties, with a share of the vote that is lower than when it lost to Mr Berlusconi five years ago.

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This could work as a question for English Language Learners, but here on ELU it is plain off-topic. No native speaker would ever use "lose by" to mean "lose to", or vice versa. They just mean entirely different things. –  RegDwigнt Feb 18 '13 at 20:39
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closed as off topic by MετάEd, RegDwigнt Feb 18 '13 at 20:34

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1 Answer

You're incorrect, by could not be used here, so this isn't a case of being allowed to use to instead of by.

The parties are the subject and agents ("doers") of lost, it is they who did the losing. Berlusconi is who they lost to. He is the prepositional object of the clause.

We could use by if we rephrase it so that we use a verb passively, and the subject becomes the patient ("done to") and the object (Berlusconi) becomes the agent:

...with a share of the vote that is lower than when it was beaten by Mr Berlusconi...

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