BERLIN (Reuters) - More than half of Germans are pessimistic about the economy but support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives is holding firm, thanks partly to their tough stance on the euro zone, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday.
The Forsa-Institute survey, published in the Stern weekly, also showed Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, which has said Greece should quit the euro, back above the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
Fifty-seven percent of those polled had a pessimistic view of Germany's economic outlook, while only 12 percent were optimistic - a gap of 45 points which is the widest margin since October 2008 when the global financial crisis hit.
Germany, Europe's largest economy, has weathered the euro zone debt crisis relatively well so far, with exports to non-European markets booming and unemployment touching 20-year lows, but a rash of recent data have pointed to a slowdown.
Earlier on Wednesday, Markit's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), a monthly survey of manufacturing industry, hit its weakest level since June 2009 as companies received fewer new orders and output flagged.
But Germans still feel Merkel's conservatives are best placed to steer Germany through the crisis. The poll gave her party 36 percent, unchanged from the last poll and nine percentage points ahead of the center-left Social Democrats.
"People have the feeling that she (Merkel) is tackling the problems and is standing up for German interests," said Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa-Institute.
Merkel has insisted that heavily indebted euro zone countries implement tough austerity measures in return for help from Europe's bailout funds, a stance that has made her very unpopular in countries such as Greece.
She has also resisted calls from France and other partners for euro bonds, or mutualised debt, saying this would remove pressure on indebted countries to reform their economies.
In the poll, the Greens were on 12 percent and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) on 5 percent, up one percentage point from last week. This would be just enough to get back into parliament in next year's federal election.
The FDP has hardened its stance on the euro zone crisis and its leader Philipp Roesler called recently for Greece - which is still falling far short of its fiscal targets despite two bailout programs - to leave the euro zone.
On these projections, however, Merkel would be unable to form a new government with the FDP and would most likely have to forge a 'grand coalition' with the Social Democrats, like the one she led from 2005 till 2009.
In the poll, conducted on July 23-27 among 2,501 people, 56 percent agreed that Greece should leave the euro zone while 35 percent said it should stay.
(Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Jon Boyle)