| BERLIN, April 12
BERLIN, April 12 The German opposition Social
Democrats (SPD) are losing support in their bid to unseat
Chancellor Angela Merkel in September's election and are no
longer trusted more than her conservatives on social issues,
according to a poll out on Friday.
The Politbarometer poll for public broadcaster ZDF will make
tough reading for candidate Peer Steinbrueck ahead of a congress
of his centre-left SPD in Bavaria on Sunday to present the
official platform for the federal election on Sept. 22.
The long-standing lead for Merkel's coalition widened to 46
percent versus 41 percent for the SPD and their Greens allies,
while the proportion of Germans who would prefer a third term
for Merkel rose three points to 63 percent.
Only 27 percent said they would prefer Steinbrueck, down
from 29 percent in the last Politbarometer poll in March. The
66-year-old former finance minister, who was Germany's most
popular politician less than two years ago, ranks eighth in
approval ratings, where Merkel consistently ranks first.
It was the second poor survey for the SPD this week.
A Forsa poll out on Wednesday suggested for the first time
in three years that Merkel could get a governing majority with
one point more support than the SPD, Greens and hardline Left
combined. The Politbarometer poll put the combined opposition
one point ahead - but the SPD rules out an alliance with the
Left because of its extreme views.
Steinbrueck is a moderate whose nomination last year meant
he had to veer to the left on issues such as higher taxes and
regulating banks to mollify that wing of the SPD. But his high
personal earnings and verbal gaffes have alienated many
left-wingers and women voters.
Embarrassed by the choice of a campaign slogan "It is we who
decide" that was already being used by a temporary employment
agency - not the kind of business the SPD supports - Steinbrueck
told German TV that it accurately reflected voter sentiment.
"There is a craving among the people for less selfishness
and more broad public welfare," said the candidate.
Party leaders worry that the economic troubles of Cyprus are
prolonging the euro zone debt crisis, which plays to Merkel's
strengths rather than focusing the campaign on domestic issues,
where they believe they have the upper hand.
However, as well as suggesting that the German public has
vastly more confidence in Merkel's ability to manage the euro
crisis - 46 percent versus 10 percent for Steinbrueck - the poll
said that for the first time more people trusted Merkel to bring
about "more social justice" than the SPD candidate.
That could undermine the SPD's hopes that its focus on
social issues such as more funding for education, equal pay for
women, a minimum legal wage and more affordable housing will
persuade voters to make Steinbrueck chancellor in September.
(Editing by Mark Potter)