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Germany's Social Democrats overtake Merkel's conservatives in poll

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch -

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Social Democrats have overtaken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in an opinion poll by Infratest dimap for the first time since October 2006, with seven months to go before a federal election.

The survey for German broadcaster ARD put the SPD, which has gained strength since nominating former European Parliament President Martin Schulz as its candidate, on 32 percent while Merkel’s conservative bloc was on 31 percent.

The SPD gained 4 percentage points compared with the same poll published on Feb. 2 while the “Union” made up of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), lost 3 percentage points.

The reinvigorated SPD has shaken up opinion polls in recent weeks after lagging Merkel’s conservatives for years. The last time the SPD won an election was in 2002, under Gerhard Schroeder.

The SPD has ruled with Merkel’s conservatives in a “grand coalition” since 2013 but Schulz has been in Brussels for most of this legislative period. Since returning to Germany he has campaigned against the chancellor’s policies as an outsider.

The poll showed the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) on 11 percent, the Greens on 8 percent and the far-left Linke on 7 percent. The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) were on 6 percent.

That means both the AfD and FDP would cross the 5-percent threshold needed to enter parliament - a development that will complicate coalition arithmetic.

The poll of 1,047 people was carried out from Feb. 20 to 22.

Reporting by Michelle Martin and Joseph Nasr; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Alison Williams