The conservatives of German Chancellor Angela Merkel were headed for a center-right majority and her center-left rivals faced a crushing defeat in European Parliament elections, exit polls showed on Sunday less than four months before a national vote.
ARD and ZDF television polls showed support for Merkel's Democratic Union and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, at up to 38.5 per cent.
They showed the Social Democrats of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Merkel's challenger in Sept. 27 national elections scoring 21.5 per cent at best.
That is the same as in 2004, when they led an unpopular center-left government. That score was their worst since World War II in a nationwide election.
Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats govern Germany in a tense "grand coalition" of the biggest parties that both hope to end in September.
Merkel's preferred future coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, scored up to 11 percent, the exit polls showed. The Greens were seen winning as much as 12 per cent and the Left Party up to 7.5 per cent.
Merkel's conservatives had been expected to fall short of the 44.5 percent they won five years ago, but the Social Democrats who have long trailed in polls had been expected to make at least some gains.
"This is a difficult evening for us," Social Democratic chairman Franz Muentefering said. "The result for us is significantly worse than we expected."
Muentefering said that "we knew there was a mobilization problem and we failed to solve it."