By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Support for Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has fallen below 50% for the first time, hit by criticism of his response to the coronavirus crisis, public security concerns and a struggling economy, a daily tracking poll showed on Friday.
The survey, by polling firm Consulta Mitofsky for newspaper El Economista, showed that Lopez Obrador's approval rating had dropped to 49.6% from 50.1% a day earlier.
Roy Campos, the head of Mitofsky, said the coronavirus pandemic was "seriously affecting" support for Lopez Obrador, as was concern over the economic outlook.
"Just as there is fear of getting sick, there's now fear about the economy," Campos said.
Lopez Obrador, whose approval rating stood at 80% barely a year ago in some surveys, has suffered a steady decline in popularity since discontent over his reaction to highly publicized murders of women last month sparked protests.
The leftist, who took office in December 2018, has also come under fire for his handling of the coronavirus crisis since the first case of infection was confirmed in Mexico on Feb. 28.
While his medical experts urged people to avoid physical contact and stay at home to contain the spread of the virus, the president has continued to hold mass rallies around Mexico, shaking hands with, hugging and kissing supporters.
Over the past few days Lopez Obrador has struck a graver tone on the health crisis, encouraging people to avoid major gatherings, setting out how the government is closing down possible transmission avenues and spelling out the symptoms.
"So far the situation is controlled," he told a regular government news conference on Friday, a day after Mexico's tally of coronavirus cases rose to 585, with eight deaths.
Nevertheless, he has continued to blame adversaries for fanning public panic, and said he would carry on with his schedule of public events around Mexico with a tour of states in the Pacific west and northwest this weekend.
Meanwhile, Mexico tipped into recession during his first year in office, dragged down by a decline in investment spurred by concern over his unpredictable management of the economy.
Rating agency S&P downgraded Mexico's credit rating on Thursday, flagging concern over the outlook.
Some private sector economists say the Mexican economy could contract by as much as 7% this year.
At the end of 2019, Lopez Obrador had the support of more than 59% of respondents in the Mitofsky tracking poll.
(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)