Support for Merkel's party highest in five years: poll
BERLIN (Reuters) - Support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives is at its highest level in five years, a poll showed on Thursday, but the weak state of her junior coalition partner may complicate the formation of the next government.
The ARD-Deutschlandtrend survey showed Merkel's conservatives on 40 percent, their best showing since late 2007, and well ahead of the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), with 30 percent. Germany holds federal elections next September.
Merkel's personal popularity also shows no signs of waning. If Germans voted for chancellor candidates in a presidential-style system instead of for parties, she would win 53 percent against 36 percent for the SPD's Per Steinbrueck.
The chancellor's handling of the euro zone debt crisis and her modest, cautious style have earned her the respect and trust of German voters.
A majority of those polled said news that Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, had earned hefty fees for speaking engagements would damage him in next year's election.
The biggest threat to Merkel's continued domination of German politics is the persistent weakness of her junior coalition partner, the liberal, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). The poll saw them winning just 4 percent - below the 5 percent threshold required to get seats in parliament.
The result will be particularly disappointing for the FDP after it successfully pushed at a coalition meeting last weekend for the abolition of an unpopular health surcharge.
That meeting also secured an agreement to introduce extra benefits for parents who keep their toddlers at home, a policy championed by the Christian Social Union (CSU), the conservative Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).
The Greens, the SPD's preferred coalition partner in any future center-left government, racked up 14 percent in the new poll, three percentage points more than in the previous survey.
Such results, however, make more likely another unwieldy "grand coalition" of Merkel's CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats, like the one she led from 2005 to 2009.
(Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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