MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The newly unveiled presidential contender of Mexico's ruling party, Jose Antonio Meade, lags his main rival, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, by some 14 percentage points, an opinion poll showed on Thursday.
The voter survey, by daily newspaper Reforma, showed Meade, who resigned as finance minister on Nov. 27 to seek the nomination of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), polling 17 percent support against Lopez Obrador's 31 percent.
Mexico elects a new president in July 2018, and though the PRI will not formally choose its candidate until Feb. 18, the party is already swinging behind Meade, even though he is not a member.
The credibility of the PRI, which has dominated Mexican politics for most of the past century, has been seriously undermined by graft, gang violence and accusations of electoral fraud. Meade has, however, avoided corruption scandals in office, and part of his appeal rests on his status as an outsider.
Meade also held ministerial posts in the 2006-2012 administration of the centre-right National Action Party (PAN), and the PRI hopes his pedigree will enable him to pick up votes from rival parties.
The poll, conducted Nov. 23-27, surveyed 1,200 Mexicans and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, Reforma said.
The dates suggest it was carried out largely before Meade announced his intention to succeed President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.
The poll put Meade two points behind a third possible contender, Ricardo Anaya, head of the PAN, assuming the latter runs in a cross-party alliance with the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), as the two parties have proposed.
The PAN has been beset by infighting since it lost power and has yet to agree on a candidate with the PRD. Some inside the PAN have already indicated they could support Meade.
In a scenario in which Anaya ran for the PAN alone, he and Meade each drew 16 percent of the vote, with Lopez Obrador out in front at 32 percent, the poll showed.
Meade said on Tuesday "he was good with numbers" and expressed certainty he would win the presidency, but some of the figures in the Reforma poll underlined the challenge he faces.
Seven out of ten voters said they did not know Meade, and negative opinions of him were five percentage points higher than positive ones. Only 13 percent of voters did not know Lopez Obrador and the balance of opinion was neutral.
(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)