BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli may be able to win Argentina's presidential election in the first round, after an opinion poll published on Friday showed he had widened his lead over his closest rival.
Scioli, the anointed candidate of leftist President Cristina Fernandez, would win 41.3 percent of voter backing, including his share of projected undecided votes, the survey by Ricardo Rouvier & Associates showed. Second-placed Mauricio Macri would secure 30.5 percent.
A candidate needs 45 percent to win outright in the first round or 40 percent with a 10 point margin over the nearest opponent to win outright on Oct. 25, otherwise the vote goes to a runoff in late November.
The survey carries a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent, meaning it is still unclear whether a second round would be necessary, but it shows Scioli extending his lead over the Buenos Aires city mayor which could be crucial in three weeks time.
A poll by the same consultancy on Sept. 17 had shown Macri just within the 10 point margin, with Scioli little changed drawing 41.2 percent and Macri 31.3 percent of support. The margin has now grown.
Third-placed Sergio Massa, a dissident Peronist who defected from Fernandez's party in 2013, would secure 20.6 percent of votes, the pollster said, improving on his 19.9 percent less than three weeks ago.
"Massa's vote has grown a little, mainly picking up the votes lost by Massa," Ricardo Rouvier & Associates said.
Massa said on Monday he could still force his way into a runoff and has launched attacks against Macri, whom he brands a neo-liberal bent on returning Argentine to the free-market policies of the 1990s that preceded a devastating economic meltdown.
The battle between Massa and Macri is helping Scioli edge toward a first round victory, analysts say. Massa and Macri will go head-to-head in the country's first presidential debate on Sunday with three other candidates. Scioli will not take part.
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Ken Wills)