The poll for daily Die Welt and broadcaster ARD further confirms the radical upending of the political landscape in Germany: As leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Steinmeier led his party less than two years ago to its worst ever election result.
The survey also illustrates the government's complete reversal of fortune. It puts even the Greens' Berlin mayoral candidate Renate Künast ahead of Chancellor Merkel in popularity.
With the dashing Bavarian Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg out of the picture owing to the doctoral plagiarism scandal, the field was wide open for two Social Democratic Party (SPD) politicians, Steinmeier and former Former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, to seize first and second places.
The survey also reveals the ever-growing cognitive dissonance in the minds of voters between their personal fortunes and their happiness with their government. Three quarters of voters felt their own economic circumstances were good or very good. Only about one in five said their situation was not good and just six percent said it was bad.
Two thirds regarded the overall economic situation in Germany as good or very good, while 22 percent said it was not good and 12 percent thought it was bad.
Pollster Infratest Dimap quizzed 1,000 voters for the poll.
Still fewer than one in four people spoke positively about the ruling coalition of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), while three quarters were not very happy or unhappy. Barely half of Merkel's own supporters are happy with the government's performance.
Steinmeier has risen to become the most popular politician as parliamentary leader for the SPD. Six out of 10 voters are happy or very happy with his efforts – a jump on the 53 percent he rated a month ago. It has been two years since an SPD politician led the field – and in that case it was also Steinmeier, when he was foreign minister, a job that normally attracts high approval ratings. It has not brought the same joy, however, to Guido Westerwelle.
Many voters discovered a personal warmth for Steinmeier last year when he donated a kidney to his wife Elke Büdenbender, who was suffering what Steinmeier called an “advanced kidney ailment.”
Former Finance Minister Steinbrück ranked second, despite no longer holding a prominent position on the political scene. He is favoured by many SPD supporters as candidate for chancellor. He was just one point behind Steinmeier, with 59 percent of voters happy or very happy with him.
Just a few months ago, Merkel and Guttenberg had the highest approval ratings in the country.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen, both from the CDU are the most popular government figures with 57 percent and 54 percent respectively.
Greens parliamentary leader and candidate for Berlin mayor, Renate Künast, jumped 12 points to fifth place on 50 percent, ahead of Merkel in sixth place on 48 percent.
Meanwhile Merkel lost five points since a month ago. Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière dropped eight points to 47 percent.