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Support for Polish ruling nationalists at all-time high

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling nationalists have seen their public support rise to an all-time high in October, an opinion poll showed on Friday, benefiting from record-low unemployment and the popularity of their welfare-spending policies.

FILE PHOTO: Leader of ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski gestures during a Law and Justice party congress in Przysucha, Poland July 1, 2017. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir KaminskI via REUTERS/File Photo

Opposition groups that accuse the Law and Justice (PiS) party of undermining democratic standards in Poland have seen their public backing fall in recent months.

According to CBOS, a pollster overseen by the office of the prime minister, public support for PiS has risen to 47 percent, up three percentage points from a month earlier. The biggest opposition party, centrist Civic Platform, which ruled Poland for eight years until 2015, is supported by 16 percent.

Since coming to power two years ago, the PiS has increased its influence over courts, has brought the prosecutor’s office and state media under direct government control, and introduced restrictions against non-governmental organisations.

It has significantly increased state welfare spending, introducing a nearly universal child subsidy. A cut in the retirement age - a costly election promise - also went into effect at the start of October.

“Massive social transfers are benefiting PiS,” said a political scientist at the Warsaw University, Anna Materska-Sosnowska.

Opposition groups may be losing popularity because they are seen as ineffective in a broad public debate over government-proposed judiciary reforms which critics say would erode the separation of powers in Poland, if implemented.

The survey showed the liberal Nowoczesna party run by a former bank economist at six percent. An anti-establishment group led by a rock star, Pawel Kukiz, was at 8 percent.

Other surveys released earlier in October showed PiS popularity at 40-43 percent, while its arch-rival Civic Platform’s stood at 21 percent.

In the 2015 election, PiS received nearly 38 percent of votes. The newest poll would mean PiS could be only two parliament seats short of a majority needed to change the constitution. The next general election will be held in 2020.

The Polish economy is expected to grow by more than 4 percent this year, powered by strong growth among the country’s main trade partners, as well as booming consumption. Unemployment is at record lows.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Sobczak; Editing by Angus MacSwan