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Poll gap between Merkel's conservatives, Social Democrats shrinks to 4 points

BERLIN (Reuters) - The lead in voter support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance over the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) shrank to a multi-year low of 4 percentage points, an opinion poll showed on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

The SPD, which a week ago appointed Martin Schulz as leader, scored 29 percent in the survey published in newspaper Bild am Sonntag - a six-point jump that Bild said was the biggest pollster Emnid had ever recorded for the party.

The jump took SPD support to its highest in over four years.

Support for Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, fell 4 points to 33 percent - cutting the gap between the two blocs to its narrowest in records compiled by poll tracker going back to Sept 2013.

“Martin Schulz is managing above all to win back former SPD voters and to appeal to them emotionally,” Emnid’s Torsten Schneider-Haase told the newspaper, adding: “Such a strong shift in party preferences within a week is a one-off.”

The SPD appointed Schulz, a former European Parliament president, as leader last Sunday, replacing Sigmar Gabriel who said he was standing aside to boost the party’s chances.

The move has re-energized the SPD, junior partner in Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’, ahead of September’s federal election.

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Schulz has vowed to unseat Merkel with a campaign aimed at overcoming “deep divisions” that he says have fueled populism in Germany in recent years.

In a theoretical head-to-head contest for chancellor, the Emnid poll showed Merkel pipping the Social Democrat to victory with 41 percent support to his 38 percent.

The SPD has held exploratory talks with the environmentalist Greens and the far-left Linke party about forming a left-leaning coalition government after the election but they need more support if that is to become a viable option.

The Emnid poll - a survey of 2,233 voters conducted from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2 - showed support for both the Greens and the Linke falling 2 points to 8 percent.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) was unchanged on 11 percent, with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) on 6 percent, also unchanged.

Schulz has called for higher wage increases for workers, described U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies as “un-American” and warned against lifting sanctions imposed against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Merkel is meeting her Bavarian allies on Sunday for two days of talks aimed at rallying their troubled alliance ahead the Sept. 24 election, which she expects to be “tough like no other”.

Writing by Paul Carrel; editing by John Stonestreet