LISBON (Reuters) - Support for Portugal's main ruling party has ebbed to its lowest since 2011 elections although it remains just ahead of the opposition Socialists who kicked off the country's eye-watering program of budget austerity two years ago.
The centre-right administration has enacted tax hikes, spending cuts and much-needed reforms in the labor market under a 78 billion euro EU/IMF bailout for the debt-laden nation. The international lenders have praised it for its resolve, but its popularity at home has been waning.
A survey by pollsters Eurosondagem showed Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's Social Democrats with support of 34.1 percent of voters, 0.5 percentage points down from the previous poll a month ago. The Socialists had 33 percent, up 0.5 percentage points.
The other member of the ruling coalition, the rightist CDS-PP, had 10.1 percent of voting intentions, unchanged from the previous month.
Although the poll showed the coalition would win a new election, its joint support has been below the roughly 46 percent needed for a full majority, which it enjoys after garnering a combined 50 percent of the vote last year.
A new election is not due for another three years, but analysts say the government's popularity - and its mandate for the budget cuts - may plunge if fails to deliver on its promise to take the country out of recession next year.
Passos Coelho reiterated on Tuesday that "2013 will be the year of inversion of the economic situation in Portugal", while also promising to stay the austerity course.
Portugal is in its deepest recession since the nation's chaotic return to democracy in the 1970s, with the economy expected to shrink 3 percent this year. Unemployment is at record levels of 15 percent.
The Socialists' standing in the Eurosondagem poll was their highest since they lost the last election with 28 percent of the vote. The party has been campaigning to soften the austerity and give at least some stimulus to growth.
The two other parties in parliament, the Communists and the Left Bloc, were little changed at 8.8 percent and 6.6 percent of voting intentions respectively, according to the poll.
The poll for the Expresso weekly and SIC television was conducted with 1,011 respondents between August 9 and 14 and has a margin of error of 3.08 percentage points.
(Reporting by Andrei Khalip; editing by Patrick Graham)
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