BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - As Slovakia gears up for a crucial year of elections, the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) remains the most popular political grouping with overwhelming support from young voters, an opinion poll published on Wednesday showed. The survey, conducted among 2,262 respondents late last year by the Institute for Public Affairs, suggests that 31.1 percent would vote for the SDK, compared with 25.7 percent for Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's populist Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). The picture is even grimmer for Mečiar among young voters, with a mere 14.2 percent of 17- to 20-year-olds expressing support for HZDS versus 40.3 percent for the SDK. Slovakia faces three sets of elections in 1998. The first, to elect a president, will be held by parliament on January 29. In the second half of the year, citizens will vote in parliamentary and then municipal ballots. The country's political landscape has been dominated by Mečiar since the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 apart from a brief period in 1994 when he was unseated by Jozef Moravčík, a senior member of the Democratic Union (DU) which now forms part of the SDK. Mečiar's government is a coalition made up of his own HZDS, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and the far-left Workers Party (ZRS). According to Wednesday's poll, the SNS would get 6.8 percent of the vote while the Workers Party would fail to cross the five percent threshold for parliamentary representation, with just 4.2 percent. The opposition comprises the SDK -- a varied grouping of anti-Mečiar parties -- the reformed communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) and the Hungarian Coalition (MK). SDL and the MK would each attract the support of just over 11 percent of voters. Added together, the government parties have the support of 36.7 percent of the population while the opposition parties have 53.4 percent. The poll's findings are similar to other surveys conducted in the second half of 1997. Slovakia was not invited to join the first wave of countries involved in talks on European Union and NATO expansion in 1997, with the EU citing shortfalls in its democratic credentials. The government has been criticised by the United States and the EU for its treatment of the half-million strong ethnic Hungarian minority and the freedom of the press.