On the eve of two days of leaders' debates, the Conservatives held on to an 11-point lead, just at the 40-per-cent mark that could lead to a majority government, according to a Nanos daily tracking poll.
Regional results, however, showed other parties remained competitive. "When you look at the national numbers, [the Conservatives' support]looks strong. But as it converts into seats it's actually much closer. It's not as strong a majority," pollster Nik Nanos said.
Monday morning's results of the Nanos Research tracking poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV show support for Stephen Harper's Conservatives at 41.2 per cent against Michael Ignatieff's Liberals at 30.4 per cent. Jack Layton's New Democrats follow at 15.2 per cent.
"This brings into focus the importance of the leaders' debate. For Stephen Harper, it's going to be, 'How can I get through this and preserve as much off the advantage that I have?'" Mr. Nanos said.
"For Michael Ignatieff, still 11 points behind, it's going to be how can he jump start the Liberal campaign to be within striking distance of the Conservatives? For Jack Layton, it will be, 'How can I get back into high teens and low 20s?'
"So I would expect an edgy campaign because all the federal party leaders are going in needing something. This will be one of the few times voters specifically tune in the campaign to eyeball the leaders."
Regionally, the Conservatives have already filled up on the support they would need in the Prairies.
The race in British Columbia has been tighter, with the Conservatives at 44.5 per cent and the Liberals at 33.6 per cent, narrowing the gap, while the NDP at 13 per cent continued a downward slide.
In Ontario, the Conservatives lead the Liberals 43.6 to 36.6 points but, with the higher regional margin of error (5.6 per cent), the two-way race in the province remains "fairly competitive," Mr. Nanos said.
In Quebec, the Bloc Québécois, whose leader, Gilles Duceppe, is seen as having led so far a lacklustre campaign, remains at 32 per cent, down from the high 30s at the start of the election, while the three main federalist parties within the 6.4-per cent margin of error of each other.
Poll respondents said their voting decision is most influenced by party policies (51.8 per cent), followed by the party leader (21.8 per cent), the local candidate (12.9 per cent) and the party they traditionally voted for (9.5 per cent).
The survey's margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Its daily tracking figures are based on a three-day rolling sample of 1,200 random telephone interviews across Canada. Each day, samples from four days ago are dropped from the results, and the latest day's figures are added.