BERLIN A majority of Social Democrat (SPD) supporters back the deal agreed last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, polls showed on Sunday, signalling grassroots members may vote for the "grand coalition" in a ballot.
Two months after Merkel emerged victorious from an election but fell just short of a parliamentary majority, the two sides agreed a 185-page blueprint for a right-left government that still has to be approved by SPD members.
The result of the ballot of some 474,000 members is due by December 15 and party leaders hope this will mean a government in Europe's biggest economy can start work before Christmas.
However, an element of doubt hangs over the outcome thanks to deep scepticism among SPD ranks about going into government with Merkel. The SPD is scarred by its worst post-war election result in 2009 after sharing power with Merkel for four years.
A Forsa poll in the Welt am Sonntag paper showed 78 percent of SPD voters back the deal and only 19 percent reject it. A separate Emnid poll in Bild am Sonntag put the share of SPD supporters who favour a grand coalition at 70 percent.
Although the polls refer to SPD supporters and not the grassroots members who will actually vote, the strong figures are an indication of the prevailing mood as SPD leaders tour the country to sell the deal at dozens of regional conferences.
The party's General-Secretary Andrea Nahles said she was optimistic that members would give their approval but that the result was not a foregone conclusion and she signalled the party's leaders would stand down if the result was a 'no'.
"It must be clear what a rejection would mean," Nahles told the Welt am Sonntag. "The whole party leadership threw itself into this process. We all negotiated hard and stand by this result. We will take responsibility," she said.
The SPD won policy compromises from the conservatives in some important areas such as a nationwide minimum wage, investment on education and infrastructure and relaxed rules on dual citizenship but had to cede ground on other policies.
Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) backed the coalition deal on Friday and its sister party, Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) are expected to back it on December 9.
However, over the weekend some senior conservatives criticised the deal, especially the minimum wage.
The CDU premier of the state of Saxony warned that it could cost jobs in eastern states where wages are lower.
"No one is ruling out that this minimum wage puts jobs at risk. That affects the East especially," Stanislaw Tillich told Wirtschaftswoche.
The head of the government's so-called wisemen panel of economic advisers, Christoph Schmidt, said a minimum wage of 8.50 euros an hour could cost more than 100,000 jobs.
The OECD also criticised plans for pensions which would allow people who have worked for 45 years to retire at 63, four years before the legal retirement age of 67, and raise pensions for some 9 million mothers who had children before 1992.
"That makes labour expensive," OECD Germany expert Andres Fuentes told Reuters. "It will have a negative effect on the economy and on employment," he said.
(Additional reporting by Rene Wagner; Editing by Mark Potter)