By Andrei Khalip
LISBON (Reuters) - A new opinion poll has put Portugal's ruling coalition well ahead of the opposition Socialists in the race for an Oct. 4 general election though falling short of a parliamentary majority and with one in three voters still undecided.
Other polls point to a much closer result in the vote, which could test the country's ability to consolidate economic gains after a debt crisis. Analysts say a stable, majority government will be key to maintaining the nascent recovery.
The new survey by respected pollsters at the Catolica University, which was published late on Friday, put the center-right coalition at 41 percent of voting intentions with the center-left Socialists trailing on 34 percent.
Catolica pollsters cautioned that the new tracking poll series, which will be released daily, was meant more to gauge trends among those now undecided rather than predict the result.
Two other polls on Friday showed the election race in a virtual dead heat. One, by Eurosondagem, put the Socialists 1.5 points ahead of the coalition on 35.5 percent. Another survey, by Aximage, gave the coalition a narrow lead with 35.3 percent against 34.7 percent for the Socialists.
Despite giving an advantage to the Socialists in terms of votes, the Eurosondagem poll showed the coalition could take more seats in the 230-seat parliament due to varying weightings of electoral mandates across Portugal.
Portugal's bailout program, which it completed in May 2014, has not sparked the mass resistance that produced radical anti-bailout parties in Spain and Greece.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is campaigning on his record of having steered the country safely through the debt crisis. The economy is now growing after three years of recession, but the government had to impose harsh austerity measures and hefty tax hikes.
Socialist leader Antonio Costa has pledged to ease back on austerity and give more disposable income back to households.
The Catolica poll surveyed 647 people between Sept. 14 and 17. The margin of error was 3.9 percentage points.
Following are the recent opinion polls by the leading pollsters for voting intentions (valid votes):
NOTE: PS - Socialist Party; PSD/CDS - center-right ruling coalition of Social Democrats and rightist CDS-PP; CDU - Communists-Greens alliance. Others - parties without parliament representation, with the leading two - populist PDR and leftist LIVRE - with less than 3 percent support each according to the latest polls. Most include null and void votes in that category.
(Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing By Helen Popper and David Evans)