Colombia's Santos slips in poll but still election favorite

BOGOTA, March 20 Thu Mar 20, 2014 12:28pm EDT

BOGOTA, March 20 (Reuters) - Support for Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos has slipped in a survey of voters intentions for May 25 elections but he remains the clear front runner in a race that will center on how to end the country's five-decade conflict.

The Gallup poll published on the website of broadcaster Caracol showed Santos would gain 32.5 percent of votes, down 2 percentage points from the previous survey, and leaving him far short of the support needed to avoid a run-off second round vote.

Nonetheless, he retained a 17 percentage point lead over his nearest rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga from the Centro Democratico party founded by ex-President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe has been a ferocious critic of Santos for engaging in peace talks with FARC rebels who have been fighting the government for five decades.

Zuluaga jumped 5 percentage points from the previous Gallup poll to 15.6 percent. If he and Santos proceed to a second round of voting, Santos would obtain 47.2 percent of votes versus 29.7 percent for Zuluaga.

The survey of 1,200 people was carried out between March 13 and 17 in 60 towns and cities with a 3 percent margin of error. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Peter Murphy; editing by Andrew Hay)