Argentine leader's image falls as inflation soars

BUENOS AIRES Sun Aug 26, 2012 3:01pm EDT

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attends a meeting with her Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez (not pictured) to sign agreements between Venezuela and Argentina, at the Argentine Embassy in Brasilia July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attends a meeting with her Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez (not pictured) to sign agreements between Venezuela and Argentina, at the Argentine Embassy in Brasilia July 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's popularity sank to 30 percent in August, less than half of what it was a year earlier, according to a poll published on Sunday that portrayed a country worried about crime and high inflation.

The telephone survey of 2,259 voting-age Argentines by polling company Management & Fit showed dissatisfaction with the interventionist policies that won Fernandez a landslide re-election 10 months ago.

The popularity of the 59-year-old Peronist -- who is part of a bloc of left-leaning South American leaders including Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador -- fell by 8.1 percentage points between August and July alone.

The international bond market has shunned Argentina since its 2002 sovereign debt default and subsequent embrace of policies that emphasize state intervention in the markets and heavy government spending meant to stoke economic growth.

As recently as September last year, a month before winning her second term, Fernandez had 64.1 popularity while campaigning on promises of deepening the interventionist policy model of her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner.

Since then the economy has slowed, and the poll suggests most people are not buying Fernandez's argument that external factors, such as Europe's financial mess, are mostly to blame.

Argentina's economic activity was flat in June, according to the official EMAE index, which is a close proxy for gross domestic product.

Of those surveyed by Management and Fit, 44.5 percent said government policy was the main cause of the stagnation. Only 8.0 percent blamed it on spillover from sluggish world growth.

The perception of an increase in street crime was first on the list of complaints voiced by participants in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. No official crime statistics were available to back this up.

Annual inflation, clocked by private analysts at over 20 percent, was another worry voiced in the survey. The government fines economists who publish their inflation estimates, which tend to double or triple the official figures.

Participants in the poll also cited growing worries about unemployment. The country's second quarter jobless rate edged up to 7.2 percent from 7.1 percent in the first three months of the year.

Fernandez's image benefited from a fast-growing economy during most of her first four-year term.

Activity is now being slowed by fallout from the European debt crisis, softer demand from key trade partner Brazil and government-imposed currency and import curbs that have further hurt confidence in Latin America's third biggest economy.

In the latest sign of malaise, Argentine industrial production fell 2.1 percent in July from a year earlier.

(Additional reporting by Karina Grazina; Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman)

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