By Alexandra Ulmer
CARACAS (Reuters) - Just under two-thirds of Venezuelans think Nicolas Maduro's presidency should end this year as the opposition pushes to oust him amid a grueling economic crisis, a survey by a leading pollster said.
Socialist-run Venezuela's struggling state-led economic model and a fall in the price of oil, its biggest export, have led to acute shortages of everything from rice to contraceptives, galloping three-digit inflation, and a profound recession.
Some 63.6 percent of Venezuelans say Maduro should quit this year or be removed via a recall referendum, versus some 29.3 percent of Venezuelans who want him to keep governing until 2019, when his mandate ends, according to the poll seen by Reuters on Saturday.
A whopping 90.9 percent of those surveyed by pollster Datanalisis in February viewed the country's situation as negative.
But Maduro's approval rating edged up to 33.1 percent from 32 percent in January, with negative views slipping to 63.4 percent from 66.4 percent.
The opposition's December legislative victory has re-polarized parts of the OPEC-member nation and Maduro has reaped rewards for labeling some of his political rivals as divided elitists incapable of solving the economic crisis.
The opposition, which retorts that Maduro's unwillingness to reform is pushing Venezuela toward an economic disaster, is pursuing a multi-pronged strategy to oust him via protests, a constitutional amendment to cut his mandate, and a recall referendum, as allowed under the constitution half-way through a presidential term.
In the event of a referendum, 52.1 percent of Venezuelans would vote to remove him from office, up from 44.5 percent in January, while 30.1 percent would vote to keep him on, down from 37.7 percent, according to the poll.
The opposition needs to collect some 3.9 million signatures in three days, ratified by the national electoral board, to trigger a referendum within the next three months.
But the number who vote against Maduro would need to be more than the roughly 7.5 million who backed him in the 2013 election.
Based on voting patterns in the Dec. 6 legislative elections, Datanalisis said just 7.49 million people would vote to remove Maduro, a whisker below the threshold.
But when using abstention patterns from the April 2013 presidential elections, some 7.9 million Venezuelans would cast their ballots against Maduro.
Maduro has scoffed at the opposition's plans to remove him.
Polls in Venezuela are notoriously divergent and controversial, but Datanalisis has become the most closely watched by both sides.
The survey of 1,000 homes was conducted from Feb. 18-27 and has a 3.04 percent margin of error.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by James Dalgleish)