It was the first time a poll showed such a shift since elections in March 2004.
The survey showed the Popular Party, headed by Mariano Rajoy, would win 40.6 percent of the vote against 40.1 percent for the Socialist party. Smaller parties would take 19.3 percent of the vote between them. The poll, carried out by the private firm Sigma Dos for El Mundo daily, surveyed 1,000 people between Oct. 4 and 6 and had an error margin of 3.16 percent. Zapatero's party won the March 14 elections in 2004 with 42.6 percent of the vote against 37.6 percent for the Popular Party. Since then opinion polls show the consistently shown the Socialists to be ahead. Zapatero, however, remains the country's best-rated politician, with a rating of 5.5 out of 10 against 4.9 for Rajoy, according to the El Mundo poll. The latest survey gave no explanation for the shift in voting intentions but El Mundo interpreted it as being due to the government's problems in handling the surge in sub-Saharan Africans trying to get into Spain's s enclaves in northern Morocco, the AP reports. I.L.