By Sara Webb
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch voters are split over whether the government should stick to its EU budget target as the country heads for an election on September 12 dominated by the euro sovereign debt crisis and austerity measures, an opinion poll published on Sunday showed.
The poll, and another published at the weekend, showed Prime Minister Mark Rutte's pro-euro Liberal Party (VVD) and the far-left Socialist Party (SP) vying for lead position to form a coalition government in one of the few euro states to retain a full set of top AAA credit ratings.
In a Maurice de Hond poll published on Sunday, 48 percent of those polled said the budget deficit could be higher next year than the EU's deficit ceiling, and 48 percent agreed that the economy would suffer too much if the target was kept.
However, 58 percent of those polled said they thought it was irresponsible of Socialist leader Emile Roemer, who some polls show could become the next prime minister, to say the Netherlands would refuse to pay an EU penalty if it did not comply with the budget limit.
The poll put the Socialists ahead with 36 seats in the 150-seat parliament, followed by the Liberals with 32. An Ipsos poll on Friday evening showed Rutte's party winning 35 seats, ahead of the Socialists with 29.
Whichever party wins the most seats would need to form a coalition from four or five parties given the country's fractured political landscape.
As campaigning gained momentum last week, politicians clashed over the Netherlands' commitment to meet EU rules by bringing its budget deficit down to below 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by next year.
The Dutch deficit is expected to be 4.2 percent of GDP in 2012, but Rutte's care-taker government has promised it will fall to 2.9 percent, below the EU target, by a deadline of 2013.
Rutte's coalition collapsed in April when his ally, Geert Wilders, refused to support billions of euros of budget cuts to meet the EU target. Within days of the collapse, Rutte's care-taker government won support from three opposition parties for the budget measures.
Political party 2010 election De Hond Aug 19 TNS Nipo Aug 14 Ipsos Synovate Aug 17 Liberal (VVD) 31 32 33 35 Christian Dem (CDA) 21 14 16 14 Democrats 66 (D66) 10 15 15 14 GreenLeft (GL) 10 4 5 4 Christian Union (CU) 5 7 7 5 5 party bloc total 77 72 76 72 Labour (PvdA) 30 16 19 23 Socialist (SP) 15 36 34 29 Freedom Party (PVV) 24 18 14 18 Animal Party (PvdD) 2 2 1 3 Reformed (SGP) 2 3 3 3 Others* 0 3 3 2 * Other parties include 50Plus, Hero Brinkman, Pirate Party
(Reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)