Portuguese opinion poll puts leading parties neck-and-neck

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) — An opinion poll published in Portugal on Thursday placed the coalition government roughly level with the main opposition Socialist Party five months ahead of a general election, confounding predictions that austerity policies in recent years would bring a voter backlash.

The poll of voting intentions in daily Jornal de Negocios gave the center-left Socialists 37.3 percent, compared with 37.2 percent for a center-right coalition of the Social Democratic Party and Popular Party, which have been in power for almost four years. Other, smaller parties made up the rest.

Austerity and the economy — especially the jobless rate of more than 13 percent — are expected to be at the heart of the election, which is expected in October.

The Socialists propose rolling back public spending cuts and tax hikes the center-right government has introduced since Portugal needed a 78 billion-euro ($89 billion) bailout in 2011. That rescue came after six years of Socialist rule and amid a debt crisis that hit countries, like Portugal, that use the euro currency.

The governing parties say Portugal can't afford to go back to what it calls the free-spending ways of Socialist governments. Portugal's public debt — one of the factors which scared away investors — is still one of the highest among eurozone countries, at around 130 percent of gross domestic product.

Portugal's bailout lenders say the country's economy has improved, posting 1.4 percent growth in the first quarter compared with the same period last year, but more spending cuts are required.

The Socialists want austerity to be eased so that public investment and consumer spending can help lift the economy.

The poll by Aximage was conducted between May 7-10 and consulted 605 people by fixed-line or cell phone. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

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