Support for Merkel hits new high

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iol pic wld merkel REUTERS Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Berlin - Germany's government now enjoys its highest popularity since coming to power three years ago, drawing support from Chancellor Angela Merkel's own ratings, a leading opinion poll showed on Friday, with less than a year until the next elections.

Merkel's own support rose to 54 percent in December, up 2 percentage points from November and increasing her lead over centre-left opponent Peer Steinbrueck by 4 percentage points, the closely watched Politbarometer for ZDF TV showed.

The centre-right coalition long failed to match Merkel's own popularity, with infighting between her Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) often dominating the news.

Now, some 62 percent of those polled said the government was doing a good job, the highest since the 2009 election.

Merkel is benefiting from a still relatively strong economy, from views that the worst of the euro zone crisis may be over, and a perception that Merkel stands up for Germany's interests abroad. Those polled perceived Merkel as more “credible” and “likeable” than Steinbrueck.

Former finance minister Steinbrueck failed to get a lift from being formally nominated on Sunday as the candidate for the main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), to challenge Merkel. His rating fell by 2 percentage points to 36 percent.

However, no party would emerge as an outright winner if elections took place on Sunday, the poll showed.

Merkel's conservatives gained 2 percentage points to 40 percent, the highest in this legislative period but not enough to get by without a coalition partner. Yet its current partner, the FDP, would fail to enter parliament, the poll showed.

The SPD's rating rose by 1 point to 30 percent. The only other parties entering parliament would be the Greens and the Left party, the survey showed.

Political analysts say this arithmetic makes a “grand coalition” between Merkel's conservatives and the SPD - like the one she led in 2005-09, though this time possibly without Steinbrueck - a likely outcome.

Another possibility is a coalition between Merkel and the Greens, though some say policy differences would hamper this.

Steinbrueck has promised a more just society - something more people polled expect he could deliver than Merkel - and has called for a united fight against Merkel's coalition.

But his campaign got off to a poor start in October and he initially lost poll support with his abrasive style and a row over high earnings that he made from speaking engagements. - Reuters

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