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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Polls Look Shaky for Germany's Schroeder

BERLIN -- Lengthening unemployment lines, a sluggish economy and a slew of sleaze stories mean Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder looks increasingly unlikely to win September's election, pollsters said.

Schroeder's center-left coalition has slipped further behind the right in opinion polls, and a survey published Sunday showed conservative candidate Edmund Stoiber leading the chancellor in the personal popularity stakes for the first time.

Schroeder, whose personal charm has been one of his strongest selling points in the campaign, scored a 54 percent approval rating, down 4 percent, the poll by the Emnid pollsters in Focus newsmagazine showed.

Meanwhile, the Bavarian premier Stoiber, considered less media-savvy and not as personable, scored 57 percent.

"The election is clearly over already. After the recent events, I now see growing sentiment for a change from Schroeder to Stoiber," Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann of the Allensbach research group told Bild newspaper.

Peter Loesche at the University of Goettingen, agreed. "I think the election is 95 percent decided. A small miracle would have to happen now to turn sentiment toward the Social Democrats," he said.

Klaus Schoeppner from the Emnid Institute doubted Schroeder could make up the lost ground. "I don't know how Gerhard Schroeder is going to do it. Voters are increasingly of the opinion that the center-left coalition is not a capable one."

A series of scandals and Germany's economic woes have proven a godsend to Stoiber's campaign. The chancellor was forced to fire gaffe-prone Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping this month over questionable payments he received from a public relations firm.

In a Dimap survey for Welt am Sonntag newspaper, 42 percent of respondents said the firing of Scharping had a negative effect on Schroeder's electoral chances, while only 35 percent thought it would have a positive impact.

Labor market experts said over the weekend they expected unemployment to stay above 4 million, leaving unemployment the same as in July 1998, just before the election that brought Schroeder to power. One of Schroeder's key promises then was to cut unemployment to 3.5 million. Poor jobless data would make the him vulnerable to fresh attacks that he has failed to revive Europe's largest economy.

Opinion pollsters have said Schroeder could benefit from proposals by a government-sponsored commission to reform Germany's heavily regulated labor market, which could give voters the impression he is trying to tackle unemployment.

The Hartz commission on labor market reform, named after Volkswagen board member Peter Hartz who heads it, could help the government gain points with voters.

If the reforms are implemented, unemployment could be halved to 2 million within three years, Hartz has said.

The Forsa Institute's Manfred Guellner said the right was in the driving seat, but Schroeder may have a trick up his sleeve.