Comedian Zelenskiy extends Ukraine presidential poll lead

FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, takes part in a production process of Servant of the People series in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV (Reuters) - Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy has extended his lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday.

But support for the 41-year-old, a political novice, remains far below the level need to secure outright victory in the March 31 ballot, and most voters still do not expect him to become president, the SOCIS survey showed.

The poll by the Kiev-based research body showed Zelenskiy on 20.7 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second on 13.2 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third on 11 percent.

A total of 39 candidates have registered for the election. If no candidate wins 50 percent, the top two will face each other in a run-off on April 21.

SOCIS said it interviewed 2,000 voters in all regions, except in annexed Crimea, from March 5 to March 10.

It and other reputable pollsters have done little research on how a run-off might pan out. But SOCIS said 23.9 percent of those it questioned expected Poroshenko to be re-elected, while 19.3 percent favored Zelenskiy to win, and 13.2 percent Tymoshenko.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; editing by John Stonestreet