BERLIN (Reuters) - German voters are punishing the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) for walking out of three-way coalition talks last month as a poll showed on Thursday support for the party falling and the popularity of its leader Christian Lindner tumbling.
The FDP in mid-November quit exploratory talks to form a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the environmentalist Greens. Lindner said back then it was better not to govern than to govern the wrong way.
Some observers speculated that the FDP had planned the move well in advance to boost its standing among voters from the center-right political spectrum and to show the party puts policy principles before power.
But the monthly DeutschlandTrend survey, conducted by Infratest Dimap pollster for ARD public broadcaster, showed that support for the FDP fell 3 percentage points to 9 percent, making it the smallest party in parliament.
Merkel's conservatives gained 2 percentage points to 32 percent, the Social Democrats (SPD) were unchanged at 21 percent. The far-right Alternative for Germany stood at 13 percent, followed by the Greens with 11 percent and the Left party with 10 percent.
The popularity of FDP leader Lindner plunged 17 percentage points to only 28 percent. Merkel's popularity fell 3 percentage points to 54 percent, her lowest level in the survey since October 2016.
The list of Germany's most popular politicians was topped by SPD Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel who shot up 8 percentage points to 65 percent. Greens co-leader Cem Ozdemir came in second with an approval rating of 57 percent.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Richard Balmforth)