Armin Laschet, CDU/CSU candidate for Chancellor, CDU Federal Chairman and Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, speaks at the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, 25 August. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) extended their lead over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in the latest poll published on Monday (30 August), increasing the chances of a left-leaning coalition government following a general election next month, write lost the heated televised debate with his two main rivals on Sunday, a snap poll suggested, as surveys showed his party falling behind the SPD.

Laschet has been under fire since he was caught on camera laughing during a visit last month to a flood-stricken town, but senior party officials praised his combative style in Sunday’s debate even if it did not immediately appear to win over voters.

“We have to fight for the next four weeks,” Jens Spahn, a Laschet ally and CDU health minister, told Bild TV, rejecting suggestions that the conservative alliance should drop Laschet in favour of Bavarian conservative Markus Soeder.

“You don’t change the coach during the game,” Spahn said.

The CDU’s slide marks a remarkable fall for the party after 16 years in office and four straight national election victories under Merkel, who plans to step down after the election.

Soeder, who earlier this year ran against Laschet to be the conservative chancellor candidate, said his erstwhile rival had laid a good foundation for the next three-way debate in two weeks.

“From my point of view, this was exactly what we had hoped for to give us new momentum,” Soeder told reporters in Munich. “It also motivates our own election campaigners.”

Laschet on Monday brushed off the post-debate snap poll, which showed that of voters surveyed by pollster Forsa, 36% believed SPD candidate Olaf Scholz won, ahead of 30% for Greens candidate Annalena Baerbock and 25% for Laschet.

Scholz is the most popular of the candidates in the polls. Despite the SPD’s lead, they would still need to team up with two other parties to govern.