Recession, record violence hit support for Mexico president-poll

MEXICO CITY, March 1 (Reuters) - Record levels of violence and an economic slump are taking an increasing toll on support for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an opinion poll showed on Sunday.

The Feb. 20-26 survey of 1,000 Mexican adults by pollster Buendia & Laredo showed the president's approval rating had slipped to 62% from 67% in late November. In February 2019, backing for the veteran leftist stood at 85%, the poll said.

"Bit by bit, the economy and security are starting to cut through more," said Jorge Buendia, head of the polling firm.

Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018 promising to bring down record levels of gang-fueled violence and to ramp up economic growth. Instead, he presided over a mild recession last year, and was unable to stop homicides rising to new heights.

Holding daily news conferences at 7 a.m., the 66-year-old has been adept at shaping the political agenda, blaming Mexico's problems on the legacy of corruption and "neo-liberal" privatisations he says he inherited from previous governments.

But his response to a slew of brutal murders in recent weeks, including one of a 7-year-old girl and another of a young woman mutilated by her partner, has been less surefooted, sparking protests and helping galvanize opposition to him.

The survey suggested that confidence in the government was lower than in the president. Some 40% of respondents said the country was on the wrong track, up from 29% in November, while 49% took the opposite view, down from 57% in the previous poll.

That net positive balance of opinion of 9 percentage points represented a sharp decrease from the survey's positive balance of 56 points one year earlier.

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Launching attack after attack on what he describes as his "conservative" opponents, Lopez Obrador has admitted to polarizing Mexico. The latest survey suggested that divisions in society have widened as his popularity frays.

Support for the president among Mexicans with lower levels of education has held up far better, the poll showed.

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In August 2019, Lopez Obrador had a 70% approval rating among respondents with only primary education, a 73% rating among those attaining only secondary levels of education, and 68% among Mexicans who had university degrees or better.

By February, the approval rating among the first two groups was only slightly lower, standing at 69% and 67% respectively. But support among the university-educated had plunged to 43%. (Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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