August 21, 2009 / 2:20 PM / 11 years ago

Germans prefer Merkel to rival by record margin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) shakes hands with employees of a Tengelmann supermarket during an election campaign rally in the western town of Muelheim August 20, 2009. General elections will be held in Germany on September 27. REUTERS/Federico Gambarini/Pool

BERLIN (Reuters) - Sixty-four percent of Germans would like to see Chancellor Angela Merkel re-elected next month while only 23 percent favor her main rival, the largest gap on record between two German candidates, a poll showed Friday.

Germans vote for parties rather than individuals to determine their leader, but the “Politbarometer” poll for ZDF television underscores the challenge for Merkel’s Social Democrat (SPD) rival Frank-Walter Steinmeier five weeks before the September 27 election.

Matthias Jung, head of pollsters Electoral Research Group (FGW) who conducted the survey, said the 41-point difference between Merkel and Steinmeier was the biggest since the poll on chancellor preferences was first conducted in 1977.

Previously the biggest gap had been Gerhard Schroeder’s 40 point lead over conservative Helmut Kohl in April 1998, months before the SPD leader ended the rule of Germany’s longest serving post-war chancellor.

Merkel, who was named the world’s most powerful woman by Forbes this week for a fourth straight year, is hoping to end her “grand coalition” with the SPD and form a ruling partnership with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) after the vote.

Such a center-right government would seek to extend the life of nuclear power stations that are due to be phased out under plans agreed by Merkel’s predecessor, Schroeder.

It would also seek opportunities to cut taxes and look to sell state shareholdings in companies like rail operator Deutsche Bahn when market conditions improve.

Should Merkel fail to win the required majority with the FDP, another coalition with the SPD looks like the most likely outcome. A second “grand coalition” would likely focus on budget consolidation to bring debt and deficit levels down.

The ZDF poll showed Merkel’s conservative bloc — the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) — with support of 37 percent and the FDP with 14 percent, enough for a parliamentary majority. The SPD stood at 23 percent.

Writing by Noah Barkin

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