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LOS ANGELES, Jan 30 (Reuters) - American filmmaker Steven Spielberg is clear favorite among the public to win the best director award for his film about President Abraham Lincoln at the Academy Awards this year, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.
While the race to win best film at the Feb. 24 ceremony was shaken up by "Argo" stealing the thunder of "Lincoln" at two award ceremonies last weekend, the best director statuette was deemed destined for one man.
Spielberg, 66, who has been nominated seven times for best director at the Oscars and won twice - for the World War Two dramas "Schindler's List" in 1993 and "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998 - was seen as far ahead in the all-male field of five.
A Reuters Ipsos poll of 1,641 Americans found 41 percent thought Spielberg should win and 38 percent said he was most likely to win for his U.S. Civil War-era drama in which British actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln.
Almost half of the respondents to the survey conducted Friday through Tuesday were unsure who should or was most likely to be voted best director. The accuracy of the poll uses a statistical measure called a "credibility interval" and is precise to within 2.8 percentage points.
The online poll comes before the Directors Guild of America awards on Saturday in Los Angeles. Since 1948, there have been only six occasions where the winner of the DGA Award for Feature Film has not gone on to win the Oscar for best director.
But this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members choose Oscar winners, overlooked the directors of four of the year's biggest movies - Ben Affleck ("Argo"), Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained") and Tom Hopper ("Les Miserables") - opening the possibility of a rare split in February in the best film and best director categories.
Betting agencies also have earmarked Spielberg as clear favorite, with William Hill offering odds of 1-5 on Spielberg.
"Our theory is that Spielberg will win best director but not best film," said Rupert Adams, a spokesman for bookmaker William Hill. "If you listen to what people are saying it is that 'Lincoln' is a brilliant film in terms of direction but it is not that exciting to watch unlike 'Argo.'"
Ang Lee, with his 3-D film adaptation of the best-selling novel "Life of Pi" about an Indian boy adrift at sea with a tiger, was ranked second in the Reuters poll with about one in 10 respondents saying he should or was most likely to win.
The Taiwanese director won the Academy Award for best director in 2005 for the gay-themed Western romance "Brokeback Mountain."
David O. Russell with the quirky comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" was rated third in the poll with about 5 percent.
The two surprise contenders in the race ranked fourth and fifth: Benh Zeitlin, 30, with his first feature, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and Austrian director Michael Haneke with the French-language drama "Armour" about illness and old age.
The exclusion of Bigelow for her film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been controversial in the run-up to the 85th Academy Awards. Bigelow, 61, is the only woman to win a best director Oscar, for "The Hurt Locker" in 2009.
Affleck, 40, whose Iran hostage thriller "Argo" swept the board at last weekend's Hollywood awards shows, was also notable by his absence, as were Hooper and Tarantino. However, all four of their movies are in the running for best film at the Oscars. (Editing by Jill Serjeant and Belinda Goldsmith)