By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA, March 20(Reuters) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is holding on to her wide lead over potential rivals and would win a second term outright in the Oct. 5 general election, according to a poll published on Thursday.
Despite Brazil's lackluster economic performance and stubbornly high inflation on her watch, Rousseff would be re-elected in the first round if the vote was held today, the Ibope poll showed.
The survey of voter intentions found Rousseff has 43 percent of the electorate's support, against 15 percent for Senator Aecio Neves of the main opposition party PSDB and 7 percent for Eduardo Campos, governor of Pernambuco state.
Brazil's presidential election race will get serious after the World Cup for soccer ends in mid-July and while no one has officially declared themselves a candidate, all three are expected to run.
The results are virtually unchanged from the previous Ibope poll in November, with Neves gaining just one percentage point.
While Rousseff is the front-runner, the Ibope poll found 64 percent of Brazilian voters want the next president to change the way Brazil is governed. Of those, 63 percent said they want the change of course to come with another president at the helm.
That is not likely to happen, according to the Ibope poll published online by the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper.
Even if there was a runoff, Rousseff would defeat Neves by 27 percent points (47 to 20). If Campos made the second-round instead of Neves, Rousseff would beat him by 31 percentage points (47 to 16), the poll showed.
Rousseff's popularity plummeted last June due to massive street protests by Brazilians angered with poor public services, corrupt politicians and the cost of building stadiums for this year's soccer World Cup.
Though she steadily recovered her numbers by yearend, recent polls have shown a dip in her approval ratings, with rising prices, crime and inadequate health and education services ranking high as the main concerns of Brazilians. The polls show most Brazilians believe the money spent hosting the World Cup would have been better spent on solving the country's problems.
Rousseff suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of her coalition allies in Congress last week when they voted to set up a committee to look into allegations that a Dutch company bribed officials at state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA when then minister Rousseff was chair of the board.
The committee has no teeth but the case can provide fodder for Rousseff's opponents on the campaign trail.
Expectations that Rousseff would lose ground to her opponents drove up shares of Brazil's largest state-run companies this week before the Ibope poll came out. Many investors are critical of her heavy-handed intervention in the economy with policies that hurt the performance and market value of the companies.
Petróleo Brasileiro preferred shares, the most traded Petrobras shares, closed up 4.87 percent at 13.99 reais, electric utility Eletrobras was up 2.49 percent at 9.89 reais and lender Banco do Brasil ended 5.45 percent higher at 20.9 reais on the Sao Paulo stock exchange.
The Ibope survey of 2,002 people was done between March 13 and 17 and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points. With the vote six months away, much can change in poll numbers as Brazilians have yet to become engaged in the presidential race. (Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer in Sao Paulo; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)