Merkel rival drags on his party's ratings before state vote

Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:08am EST
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BERLIN (Reuters) - Angela Merkel's conservatives have opened a 20-point poll lead over Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD), leaving the chancellor's gaffe-prone rival with even more ground to make up before September's national election.

A survey published by the Forsa institute on Wednesday put the SPD down two percentages points at 23 percent, their lowest level in 18 months and equal to their showing at the 2009 election, which was their worst since World War Two.

Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc rose one point to 43 percent, its highest level since she became chancellor in 2005.

Since October, just after the SPD announced former finance minister Peer Steinbrueck would stand against the perennially popular Merkel in the autumn, the SPD has dropped seven points.

The SPD had hoped to snatch the region of Lower Saxony from the conservatives in an election taking place on Sunday, giving the centre-left much-needed momentum at the start of the federal election year.

But polls there show the large lead once held by the coalition the SPD would like to operate with the Greens has all but disappeared. They are running virtually neck-and-neck with the CDU/Free Democrat alliance - and most commentators blame Steinbrueck.

Back in October, the charismatic but unpredictable Steinbrueck was one of Germany's most popular politicians, but he has since alienated much of the voter base of a party that still vaunts its working class roots.

He revealed he earned 1.25 million euros in speeches in the last three years, said chancellors should earn more, and admitted he would never drink a bottle of wine that cost less than 5 euros.

He has also acknowledged he has a problem with female voters - something he did not help remedy by saying he thought Merkel got an unfair "bonus" in popularity terms for being a women.   Continued...

Peer Steinbrueck, Social Demrocratic (SPD) top candidate for the 2013 German general elections delivers his speech during an election campaign with Lower Saxony's Social Democratic top candidate Stephan Weil (not pictured) in Emden, January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer