BERLIN German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc retained its lead over the main centre-left SPD in a poll on Friday, six months ahead of federal elections, but its opponents logged their highest support in the survey in almost five years.
The conservatives held steady on 34 percent support while the SPD gained 2 percentage points to 32 percent, the poll by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen for broadcaster ZDF showed.
Merkel and SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, who has boosted the party's fortunes since being nominated in January, were neck-and-neck in the personal popularity stakes, with both achieving 44 percent support.
In February the same poll had shown 49 percent of Germans wanted Schulz, the former European Parliament president, to become chancellor compared with 38 percent who wanted Merkel to stay in office.
The SPD had for years lagged behind the conservatives but Schulz has reinvigorated the party by campaigning to deal with social justice and revising labour market reforms that were introduced by former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over a decade ago.
The poll showed the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany down one percentage point on 9 percent but still on course to enter the national parliament as the third-biggest party.
It put the far-left Linke on 8 percent and the environmental Greens were on 7 percent. The pro-business Free Democrats were on 5 percent.
The survey of 1,212 people was carried out from March 7 to March 9.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Michael Nienaber and Hugh Lawson)