Merkel's lead over German opposition slumps: poll

BERLIN Sun May 27, 2012 12:35pm EDT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Chancellery for talks in Berlin, May 24, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Chancellery for talks in Berlin, May 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives saw their lead over the main centre-left opposition party crumble in the sharpest one-week shift in German voter sentiment in seven years, an opinion poll showed on Sunday.

An eight percentage point lead by Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) over the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) fell to just two points during a week that saw the chancellor face pressure over the euro crisis and domestic turmoil, according to the Emnid poll.

One party leader said the conservatives were also suffering from the after effects of a trouncing in a regional election on May 13 - though it was still too early to say whether the shift would have any impact on the next parliamentary vote, scheduled for 2013.

Support for the CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), fell three points to a seven-month low of 32 percent during the week up to May 23, according to the poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Support for the centre-left opposition Social Democrats rose three points to a five-month high of 30 percent over the same period, the survey found.

Merkel's conservatives had held a comfortable advantage over the SPD in polls since crushing the centre-left party in the last parliamentary election in 2009. The current two-point lead is the narrowest since October 2011.

The results came against a backdrop of rising pressure on Merkel - from international partners and from opposition parties at home - to take bolder steps to boost growth in stricken euro zone members like Greece and Spain.

Adding to Merkel's troubles were German media reports that the chancellor had been upstaged at last week's G8 summit in the United States by France's new president Francois Hollande.

There was also damaging media coverage of Merkel's decision to fire Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, who was blamed for the CDU's defeat in the regional election in Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia on May 13.

OUTLOOK FOR 2013 VOTE UNCLEAR

The Greens party was steady at 12 percent, the Pirates remained unchanged at 11 percent and the Free Democrats (FDP), who rule with Merkel's CDU/CSU, rose 1 point to 6 percent, the survey found. The Left party held steady at 6 percent.

With about 16 months until the next election, the outlook remains unclear with neither the SPD and their preferred allies the Greens having enough combined backing (42 percent) to renew the centre-left coalition that ruled from 1998 to 2005.

The combined forces of the CDU/CSU and their FDP allies also failed to reach a majority (38 percent).

"Obviously the NRW election was very painful," said Hermann Groehe, Merkel's deputy in the CDU, in an radio interview on Sunday. "It didn't only hit the CDU in NRW but, because it's the biggest state, a defeat like that hits the whole party."

The ambitious Roettgen, who rebuffed Merkel's demand he give up his cabinet job to lead the NRW campaign, was sacked by Merkel four days after the party's humbling defeat in Germany's industrial heartland state. The CDU crashed to 26.3 percent from nearly 35 percent in 2010.

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum)

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