March 26 (UPI) -- Conservatives captured the most votes for the parliamentary elections in the western German state of Saarland on Sunday -- a good sign of support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel going into her September national vote.
The Christian Democrats won 40.5 percent of the votes, compared with 30 percent for the Social Democrats, far-left Die Linke at 13 percent and populist right-wing Alternative for Germany at 6 percent, according to exit polls by Infratest Dimap from public broadcaster ARD on Sunday night.
If the percentages hold up, the Christian Democrats, or CDU, would earn 24 seats, the Social Democrats, or SPD, 17, the far-left seven and the right-wing party three.
Saarland is mainly a Catholic state bordering Luxembourg and France with 1 million residents and 800,000 eligible voters.
The state is now governed by a coalition of the CDU and SPD, like the national government.
Martin Schulz, 61, is running against Merkel as a member of the SPD in the Sept. 24 national election. The former president of the European Parliament took over as leader of the party in January.
The vote in Saarland was the first of three regional elections this spring -- REW Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia.
In a DeutschlandTrend poll released Friday, voters favor Schulz with 45 percent compared with Merkel at 36 percent. Last month, Schultz had 40 percent and Merkel 34 percent.
Merkel, 62, was first elected in 2005.