Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is heading for victory in the first round of the presidential election by winning well over 50 percent of the vote, pollsters said on Friday.
There had been talk that Putin might be forced into a second round of voting -- for the first time in his political career -- to win the election, in which he is seeking a third term as president after his four year stint as prime minister.
The state-run Public Opinion Foundation pollster (FOM) said in a projection based on its polls that 58.7 percent will vote for Putin in the March 4 election, with an expected turnout of 61.8 percent.
The state VTsIOM pollster earlier this week had predicted a similar outright victory for Putin with 58.6 percent of the vote.
The independent Levada center said in its latest survey that 66 percent of those who were going to vote on March 4 and had made their choice would vote for Putin.
Some 15 percent would vote for his nearest rival, the Communist Gennady Zyuganov, eight percent for ultra-nationalist maverick Vladimir Zhirinovsky, six percent for tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, and five percent for A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov, it said.
A second round run-off is "highly unlikely", Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Center, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
This was partly because Putin receives 70 percent of television time, against 30 percent for all other candidates, he added.
While "43-46 percent of eligible voters are ready to vote for Putin, among those who are decided and will definitely vote, 63-66 percent are ready to vote for Putin," Gudkov said.
Putin's approval rating appears to have been rising over the past months after hovering in the mid 40 percent immediately after the December parliamentary polls which were followed by an unprecedented outburst of protests.
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