German Chancellor Angela Merkel's lead in popularity over Kurt Beck, her likely challenger in the next national election, widened in 2007, said a poll released Wednesday.
Merkel, head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), expanded her lead over Social Democratic Party leader Beck to 37 percentage points this month, the weekly poll by Berlin-based market researcher Forsa showed.
At the beginning of this year, Merkel's lead was 19 percentage points.
Fifty-five percent of the voters polled between Dec. 17-21 said they would choose Merkel if they were able to elect the chancellor directly, compared with 18 percent who backed Beck, according to the survey by Stern magazine and RTL television.
In January, 44 percent favored Merkel and 25 percent Beck.
The CDU will defend its rule in state elections in Lower Saxony and Hesse on Jan. 27, followed by the city-state of Hamburg on Feb. 24. The national elections are scheduled for late 2009.