BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her struggling coalition partners were fighting over votes Friday in the final stretch of campaigning for Germany's election as polls pointed to a tight outcome.
Merkel is heavily favored to emerge from Sunday's election with a third term, but her hopes of continuing the current coalition of her conservatives and the pro-market Free Democrats are in the balance.
A ZDF television poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday showed a statistically insignificant one-point lead for the alliance over the combined opposition – in line with other recent surveys showing a dead heat.
The Free Democrats are pushing hard for Merkel supporters' votes after being ejected from Bavaria's state legislature in a regional vote last weekend. In national polls, they're hovering around the 5 percent support needed to keep their seats in Parliament.
Merkel and her conservative Union bloc are pushing back, saying they have no votes to give away. If the coalition loses its majority, the likeliest outcome would be a "grand coalition" between Merkel's party and the center-left Social Democrats – and the conservatives want to be as strong as possible.
"I would advise us all in the final hours before the election to fight our political opponents and not argue over each other's votes," Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, who led Merkel's conservative bloc to victory there, told the daily Die Welt.
The Free Democrats have "potential of well over 5 percent," he was quoted as saying. They won nearly 15 percent at the last election.
"I think it's a very strange understanding of democracy when the impression is raised that citizens' votes belong to the chancellor," the Free Democrats' general secretary, Patrick Doering, shot back on n-tv television.
ZDF's poll of 1,369 people gave Merkel's conservatives 40 percent support and the Free Democrats 5.5 percent. Challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats polled 27 percent, their Green allies 9 percent and the hard-line Left Party – with which the center-left parties say they won't work – 8.5 percent.
The poll showed a new anti-euro party, Alternative for Germany, at 4 percent – not enough to win parliamentary seats. It gave a margin of error of plus or minus up to three percentage points.