Forty-nine percent of viewers surveyed by German broadcaster ARD viewed Merkel as the more credible over the course of the debate, compared to just 29 percent who favored Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Schulz.
More than half of those surveyed (55 percent) said the chancellor also outperformed her rival, compared to just 35 percent who thought Schulz came out on top.
Merkel reportedly scored particularly high marks when it came to credibility, grasp of the issues and likability.
It comes after the two candidates jostled over 90 minutes on issues ranging from migration, to pensions, to Dieselgate.
Migration turned out to be the first and central issue of the debate, with Merkel remaining stern on her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015, saying it was the “absolutely correct” thing to do.
While Schulz said he ultimately agreed with the chancellor’s decision, he rebuked her over her handling of the crisis and accused her of failing to coordinate a better European response.
“The inclusion of our European neighbors would have been better,” Social Democrat (SPD) Schulz said, adding that earlier EU policy would have seen countries such as Poland and Hungary take more responsibility to helping settle refugees.
That forced Merkel to shoot back, saying that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made clear from the outset that he was not willing to cooperate. “We had a very dramatic situation… There are times in the life of a chancellor when she has to decide,” said the chancellor.
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