BERLIN Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Social Democrat rival in this year's federal election has tumbled following his complaint that German leaders are underpaid, a survey showed on Wednesday.
In the latest in a series of damaging gaffes, Peer Steinbrueck said last month that German chancellors received inadequate compensation, drawing rebukes from both his political opponents and his own centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
A poll for stern magazine and RTL television showed backing for the acerbic former finance minister slipping to 22 percent from 26 percent before Christmas, while Merkel saw her support leap seven percentage points to 58 percent.
The German chancellor's pay is set to rise by 930 euros per month to 17,106 euros in 2013 along with pay rises for ministers and members of parliament, increases that have been criticised by some for sending the wrong signal in an era of austerity.
Steinbrueck previously raised eyebrows in Germany, especially on his own party's left-wing, with the revelation that he has earned some 1.25 million euros as an after-dinner speaker in the past three years.
A separate Forsa poll published on Wednesday showed the SPD on 25 percent, its worst result since last April and trailing far behind Merkel's conservatives on 42 percent.
Merkel, in power since 2005, is benefiting from a still relatively strong economy, from hopes that the euro zone crisis may be over and a perception that she stands up for German interests abroad.
But it is not all plain sailing for Merkel, Europe's most powerful politician.
The Forsa poll showed support for her junior coalition partner, the liberal, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), slumping to just 2 percent, well below the 5 percent threshold for entering parliament.
If the FDP fails to win seats in the September federal election, Merkel will probably have to turn to the SPD or the Greens to try to form a government. She led a 'grand coalition' of conservatives and the SPD in 2005-09.
The Forsa survey gave the Greens 15 percent and the radical Left Party 9 percent.
(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Stephen Brown)