MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first female presidential candidate from any of Mexico's three main political parties, is steadily rising in popularity and catching up to frontrunner Enrique Pena Nieto, a poll showed on Monday.
Vasquez Mota, from the ruling National Action Party (PAN), has 32 percent support ahead of the July 1 election, but is still trailing 16 points behind Pena Nieto from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
The survey by El Universal daily and polling firm Buendia & Laredo, the first to compare the three leading candidates, showed leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador trailing with 20 percent. Lopez Obrador narrowly lost in 2006 to President Felipe Calderon and contested the election results with months of street protests.
Positive opinions of Vazquez Mota spiked to 35 percent in February from 23 percent in November, while the positive view of Pena Nieto plateaued at 47 percent, the poll showed.
The PAN chose Vazquez Mota as their candidate in an internal election earlier this month, hoping she can pull independent woman voters and young people away from the telegenic Pena Nieto who has maintained a steady lead since last year.
Support for Calderon's PAN party has slipped as the government struggles to control spiraling drug violence, bolster the economy and ease gridlock in the country's legislature.
The PRI is hoping Pena Nieto, 45, can bring a new face to the party, which ruled Mexico for seven decades before it was ousted by the PAN in 2000.
The poll, conducted between February 8 and 13, surveyed 1,000 people and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Jackie Frank)