German poll shows tiny center-right majority

BERLIN -- A poll published Wednesday indicated that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's preferred center-right coalition has a razor-thin majority going into this weekend's general elections.

Merkel is hoping to end her "grand coalition" with the center-left Social Democrats and instead form a new government with the pro-business Free Democrats after Sunday's vote.

The Forsa agency's poll, conducted Sept. 15-21, reinforced expectations of a close race, with 35 percent of those surveyed showing support for Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union. That was down two percentage points from a survey conducted Sept. 14.

The survey showed support for the Free Democrats up one point at 13 percent - which would give the potential center-right alliance a total of 48 percent, compared with 47 percent for their rivals combined.

Support for the Social Democrats of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was up two points to 26 percent. The opposition Greens and Left Party were unchanged at 11 and 10 percent, respectively.

Steinmeier, Merkel's challenger for the top job, has focused his campaign on preventing a center-right government. Though considered unlikely to become chancellor himself, he benefited from a confident performance in a Sept. 13 television debate with Merkel.

Merkel has pledged tax relief to help spur economic growth and wants to halt a plan to shut down Germany's 17 nuclear power plants by 2021.

If her party and allies are unable to secure a center-right majority, a repeat of the "grand coalition" looks likely.

Forsa chief Manfred Guellner told Stern magazine, for which his agency conducted the poll, that he doesn't expect voters to switch between right and left at this stage.

"The race will be tight again," he said, but added that the center-right may be helped by a quirk of the electoral system that gives Germans two votes: one for a directly elected constituency representative and one for a party list. The system allows for parliamentary seats to be added if a party wins more direct seats than it would under the proportional party distribution.

Germany's highest court has ordered the system to be changed by 2011, and the Social Democrats have questioned how legitimate a government that depended on them would be.

Merkel has vowed to form a coalition with the Free Democrats even if the center-right has only a one-seat majority.

Germany's biggest industrial union, IG Metall, urged people to vote against the center-right, which it argued could be bad for workers' rights.

"We want to prevent a coalition that is hostile to employees on Sunday - every vote is needed for that," deputy union leader Detlef Wetzel said.

Forsa's findings were largely in line with those of three polls released Friday by other agencies. One indicated the center-right parties were level with their rivals; the other two gave them a lead of up to three percentage points.

Forsa surveyed 2,503 people and gave a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.


Post a Comment