BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity among German voters is at its highest level in three years, according to a poll published on Thursday that also confirmed strong support for her stance in the euro zone debt crisis.
But the Infratest-ARD survey suggested Merkel's coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), would fail to get elected to the lower house Bundestag after next year's election, complicating her hopes of securing a third term.
The poll, conducted after an EU summit widely seen by German media as a setback for Merkel's tough euro zone policies, showed 66 percent of Germans were satisfied with her performance, an increase of eight percentage points from a month before and the highest reading since 2009 when she won a second term.
Her nearest rival, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), had an approval rating of 61 percent. He was level pegging with Merkel's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Some 58 percent of Germans believe Merkel's stance in the euro crisis is correct and decisive, although 85 percent of those polled also expect the crisis to get worse. Both figures reinforce findings of previous opinion surveys.
Merkel insists that heavily indebted euro zone countries such as Greece must impose austerity policies in return for bailout funds and argues that the EU must achieve a much greater degree of political and economic unity before any mutualisation of debt, a view backed by Germans in the poll.
More than two thirds of those polled also backed a referendum before Germany hands over any more powers to EU institutions, a view championed by an increasing number of German politicians including Schaeuble. It would be the first referendum in Germany since the Nazi period.
Thursday's poll showed Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) remain the most popular party in Germany with 35 percent backing against the SPD's 30 percent.
But the SPD's preferred future coalition partner, the Greens, were on a solid 14 percent while Merkel's pro-business FDP allies were on just 4 percent, below the 5 percent threshold required to win seats in the Bundestag.
The next federal election is due in the autumn of 2013.
(Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence)