BERLIN (Reuters) - A majority of Germans want Angela Merkel to run for a fourth term as Chancellor and nearly three in four believe she would like to remain in office beyond 2017, when her current term ends, a new poll shows.
Last year some leading German commentators speculated that Merkel, 60, might step down in the middle of her third term to give a successor time to consolidate his or her position before the next federal vote.
But one year into her third term, Merkel is enjoying popularity levels that other leaders can only dream of, while the leading candidate to succeed her as leader of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), Ursula von der Leyen, has made a mixed start as defence minister.
The survey was conducted days before Merkel is expected to be feted at the CDU's annual congress in Cologne.
Conducted by polling group Emnid for the Sunday edition of the Bild newspaper, the poll showed 56 percent of Germans would like Merkel to run for a fourth term, against 37 percent who would prefer she stop after three. Some 74 percent of respondents said they believe that she wants a fourth term.
In post-war Germany only Helmut Kohl, the father of German reunification and an early mentor of Merkel, has served four terms as Chancellor.
A separate poll for public broadcaster ARD last week showed that 67 percent of Germans approve of the job Merkel is doing.
Record low unemployment levels and Merkel's defence of German interests during the euro zone debt crisis have contributed to her popularity.
Her tough stance towards Russia during the Ukraine crisis has also become popular in recent months after earlier polls suggested that most Germans were sceptical about whether punishing Moscow with economic sanctions was wise.
The ARD poll showed that only 39 percent of Germans approve of von der Leyen, who has come under fire for making ambitious pledges of German support for crisis regions at a time when Germany's military hardware is in a state of disrepair.
Other world leaders are also faring poorly compared with Merkel.
Approval ratings for US President Barack Obama have hovered around 40 percent in recent polls and a survey for French daily Le Figaro last month showed that 86 percent of French voters do not want President Francois Hollande to stand for re-election in 2017.