QUITO - Ecuador's President Rafael Correa holds a commanding lead ahead of February's election as an opinion poll published on Monday showed him more than 30 points ahead of his closest rival.
High government spending on roads, hospitals and schools has made the 49-year-old economist very popular with the low-income majority, and he will have the advantage of facing a divided opposition that will include at least five other candidates.
According to a poll by local pollster Cedatos, Correa would win 52 percent of votes, 31 percentage points more than banker-turned-politician Guillermo Lasso, who hails from the coastal city of Guayaquil.
The Cedatos poll shows that support for Correa, who has boosted social spending and given the state a key roll in the economy, has decreased slightly in the past month. The company's previous poll published in October showed Correa winning 55 percent of votes, 32 percentage points more than Lasso.
Although Correa usually avoids naming Lasso, he has increased attacks against banks in recent weeks, blaming them for a 1999 crisis that saw thousands of account holders lose part of their savings.
He introduced a bill in Congress last month calling for higher taxes on banks to finance a welfare program. Bankers say the bill is a ploy to confiscate their profits.
"Banks have launched a horrific campaign against the government," the socialist leader told reporters on Monday as he denounced "the supremacy of capital over human beings."
Lasso, who is running on a platform of lower taxes and incentives to private investors to boost job creation, will have difficulty in denting Correa's support among the poor, many of whom still distrust the banking system.
Other candidates are former President Lucio Gutierrez; Alberto Acosta, a former Correa ally; and Alvaro Noboa, a banana magnate who will run for the presidency for the fifth time.
In power since 2007 and a member of a Latin American leftist bloc led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Correa has given the state a key role in a small economy very dependent on oil and bananas.
Critics say Correa has grabbed too much power and clamped down on media freedom. They accuse him of scaring off foreign investors with a 2008 debt default and failing to diversify the economy from its dependence on oil exports.
Cedatos interviewed some 2,300 people in 15 cities throughout Ecuador and the poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.