Reuters International

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

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By Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The proportion of Chileans who are optimistic on the country's future has fallen sharply, and many take a dim view both of the current government and potential successors, two polls showed on Thursday.

The percentage of Chileans who said their country was going "in the correct direction" fell to 18 percent last month from 41 percent a year and a half ago, according to a CERC-Mori poll.

Approval of the government was at 25 percent, the lowest since President Michelle Bachelet began her second non-consecutive term in March 2014. A separate poll by GfK Adimark indicated approval for the centre-left leader at 22 percent, the same as last month's historical low.

The once-popular Bachelet was swept into power pledging to raise taxes and overhaul education, pensions, the electoral system and labour relations.

But a sharp fall in the price of copper has hit investment hard in Chile, the world's top exporter of the base metal. At the same time, a series of corruption scandals has left Chileans angry at the political and business elite.

Bachelet has been caught between a right-leaning opposition, including some from her own coalition who say her reforms are damaging the country's weakened economy, and a left-wing that says they do not go far enough.

One-time Bachelet mentor Ricardo Lagos, who ruled Chile in the 2000s, told La Tercera newspaper last week that the country was going through its worse institutional crisis since the 1973-1990 dictatorship.

"In no moment since 1990 has there been a conjunction of such negative economic and political perceptions as there is at this time," said the CERC-Mori poll.

The two names that emerged in the poll as most likely to be president after elections due in 2017 are both veteran ex-presidents who have already begun 'soft' campaigning - Lagos and centre-right Sebastian Pinera.

But when asked to choose between the two, most people said they would prefer not to vote (40 percent). The 78-year-old Lagos received 28 percent support, and 66-year-old Pinera 26 percent.

In contrast, leftist ex-student leaders Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric were named after Pinera as those with the brightest political future. Jackson has recently formed a new party to tap into voter discontent, but is too young to run for president in 2017.

The CERC-Mori poll surveyed 1,200 people between July 15 and 30 and GfK Adimark polled 1,057 between July 6 and 28. Both have an error margin of 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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