German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure from conservative allies on Sunday to run for a fourth term in 2017 after an opinion poll showed they could win an absolute majority if an election were held next week.
The results of the poll came a day after Der Spiegel news magazine said in an unsourced report that Merkel, who turned 61 on July 17, had decided to run for a fourth term and had started planning her 2017 re-election campaign.
Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), quickly took up the idea of the conservatives winning an absolute majority in 2017.
"I believe that is possible with a Chancellor Angela Merkel," he told ARD television.
Merkel has been chancellor since 2005, first in a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), then with the small pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), and now a second time with the SPD.
The CDU/CSU has not had an absolute majority since Konrad Adenauer's third term as chancellor ended in 1961.
The Emnid poll for the weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag put support for Merkel's CDU and the CSU at 43 percent.
The survey of 1,860 people showed that - for the first time since June 2005 - support for the CDU/CSU was equal to that of all other parties that would clear the 5-percent hurdle required to win seats in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.
Such a result would give Merkel's conservatives a chance of winning an absolute majority if an election were held next week. The change came as support for the far-left Left party fell by one percentage point.
Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier played down the idea of the chancellor running for a fourth term.
"It is and remains speculation," Altmaier told the mass-selling daily Bild when asked if and when Merkel would announce she was running for another term as chancellor. She would decide when she believed the time was right, he added.
An absolute majority would give Merkel's conservatives the chance to govern without compromising on issues such as pension reform and the minimum wage, as they have done with the center-left SPD.
Merkel's handling of the Greek crisis, in which she worked tirelessly to negotiate the blueprint of a deal with Athens, secured her support.
"During the Greek crisis, Merkel showed herself to the German people as a politician who can be relied on in difficult situations," Torsten Schneider-Haas of Emnid told Bild am Sonntag.
Merkel has not made any public comments about whether she would run for a fourth term, although she did hint in a speech in Cologne last year she would stand again. She is now on holiday hiking in the Alps.
In a country that cherishes stability, Merkel is only the eighth post-war chancellor. She has no obvious rivals in the CDU and the SPD is openly doubting whether their leader Sigmar Gabriel can beat Merkel in the next election due in 2017.
There are no term limits in Germany and the last CDU chancellor, Helmut Kohl, served for 16 years before losing his bid for a fifth term in 1998 to Gerhard Schroeder of the SPD. Neither were as popular among voters as Merkel. (Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Tom Heneghan)