BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity has dropped abruptly over her handling of Europe's refugee crisis, a poll for ARD television network showed.
Merkel, who was criticized for being slow to condemn violent protests against refugees in an east German town last month, saw her approval ratings slip by 4 points from the previous month to 63 percent in the Infratest Dimap survey.
Although she remains very popular at home, it was an unusually steep one-month drop in a survey that normally moves by just a point or two each month. It was the lowest support rating for Merkel since December 2012.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a leading Social Democrat (SPD), remained the most popular politician with an approval rating of 72 percent, while support for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was at 69 percent.
More than half of those surveyed were unhappy with how Merkel had acted in the refugee crisis, which she has described as a bigger challenge for Europe than the Greek debt crisis.
Germany, with relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits, is the EU's biggest recipient of people fleeing war in the Middle East and economic migrants from southeastern Europe.
A record 104,460 asylum seekers entered the country in August, and it expects about 800,000 people to file for asylum this year - four times last year's level.
Despite the influx, 37 percent of those surveyed were in favor of Germany continuing to take a similar number in the future, while 22 percent believed their country should accept more. Some 33 percent wanted fewer refugees.
More than half were not worried by the surging number of asylum seekers, but concern was greater in the former Communist east, where unemployment is generally higher than in the west and the far-right has a stronger grip, the poll showed.
The poll of 1,001 voters was conducted on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Hugh Lawson)