A year after height of migrant crisis, Merkel's party dips in poll

August 31, 2016 5:16 AM EDT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Leib­niz In­sti­tu­te for Plas­ma Sci­ence and Tech­no­lo­gy (INP Greifs­wald) in Greifswald, Germany August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos


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BERLIN (Reuters) - Support for Angela Merkel's conservatives has slipped as more voters turn to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), two polls showed on Wednesday, a year after she prompted criticism by saying Germany would cope with the migrant crisis.

A Forsa poll showed support for her conservatives, still the biggest group, had fallen to 33 percent, down two points from last week and eight points from a year ago. The AfD rose two points to 12 percent, their second-highest level this year.

In the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a separate poll showed the AfD has eclipsed Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), with the party forecast to win 23 percent of the vote, compared to 20 percent for the CDU.

About a year before the next federal election, the surveys reflect growing dissatisfaction with Merkel, Germany's chancellor for over a decade, since her decision to adopt an open-door refugee policy, and her controversial rallying cry, "We can do this."

Merkel said on Wednesday she remained deeply convinced that the phrase was justified and the right thing to say.

"It was a sentence that expressed a certain position and a certain motivation, and I think we have accomplished a lot, but a lot still remains to be done," she said during a joint new conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Italy.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants, many from war zones like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, arrived in Germany last year, stoking fears about the costs and about integration, which in turn have swelled support for the right-wing AfD.

The government had previously said that Germany took in over a million migrants last year, but the migration agency now says the number was less than that, although no estimate has yet been released.

On Wednesday, new government data showed that about 16,000 migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected had been deported to their countries of origin from January to the end of July, compared to 21,000 deportations in all of 2015.

Around 35,000 migrants accepted financial incentives and voluntarily left Germany in the first seven months of the year, the data showed.

Merkel has championed an EU deal with Turkey that stemmed the migrant influx into Europe from that country, but which has also stirred accusations that she has cosied up to an authoritarian head of state with a patchy human rights record.

Merkel's conservatives also face heavy losses in another regional election on Sept. 18 in the city of Berlin. The AfD is widely expected to make big gains there as well.

The Forsa poll indicated that support for all other parties was unchanged with the Social Democrats (SPD), who share power with Merkel's conservatives, on 22 percent.

The poll also showed that 62 percent of Germans thought the government's overhaul of civil defenses, which told citizens to stock up on water and food in the event of a terrorist attack or national catastrophe, announced last week, was scaremongering..

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Andrea Shalal and Thorsten Severin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)



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