The race between the Conservatives and the New Democrats appears to be tightening in what has become a dramatic race in the home stretch.
A new poll conducted by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV suggests a gap of about just six percentage points between Stephen Harper's Conservatives and Jack Layton's New Democratic Party as Canadians prepare to head to the polls Monday.
The telephone survey, carried out between April 28 and April 30, indicate the Conservatives had the support of 37 per cent of decided voters, compared to 30.6 per cent for the NDP and 22.7 per cent for the trailing Liberals.
The random sample of 1,068 people is expected to reflect the broad opinions of Canadians within 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
The Conservative advantage over the NDP in the three-day rolling average diminished from eight to six points.
"The trend suggests that on Saturday the race tightened even further between the Conservatives and the New Democrats," Nik Nanos, the president of the polling firm, said Sunday.
But one of the unknowns becomes the NDP ground game, he said. "Can they convert goodwill to the ballot box?"
The New Democrats have shown dramatic increases in support in areas of the country, particularly Quebec, where they have little in the way of local organization. That means there will be few people to get NDP voters to the polls in those regions.
Meanwhile, on a day when the Sun newspaper chain ran a story about Mr. Layton visiting a Toronto massage parlour 16 years ago, Mr. Nanos said the NDP leader's personal leadership scores significantly improved and surpassed those of Mr. Harper.
Mr. Layton climbed 17 points, to 97, on the Nanos Leadership Index, which measures perceptions of the leaders' trustworthiness, competence and vision for Canada.
That compared to 88 for Mr. Harper and 39 points for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
"The one-day polling completed on the same day that the massage-parlour story broke showed that Jack Layton's score improved, including perceptions related to trust," said Mr. Nanos.
"This suggests that the story in fact helped Jack Layton," he added. "A number of Canadians likely viewed it as a deliberate political smear."
The one-day leadership poll of 400 people is expected to reflect the opinions of Canadians within 5 percentage points.
More polling will be conducted by Nanos throughout the day Sunday and additional numbers will be released in the evening to give voters a better understanding of the political landscape as the five-week campaign comes to an end.
Regionally, the poll suggests the battle between the parties is intensifying as it comes down to the wire.
In Atlantic Canada, where the Liberals still remain competitive, there was a statistical three-way tie.
The NDP, meanwhile, continued to enjoy a comfortable lead in Quebec with the support of 37.4 per cent of respondents. The Bloc Québécois had the support of 23.9 per cent, followed by the Liberals at 18.1 per cent and the Conservatives at 16.7 per cent.
The Conservatives remained ahead of the other parties in Ontario but the gap was not great. They had the support 36.2 per cent of respondents in the province, where the large number of seats is critical to the election's outcome. The Liberals followed with the support of 31.1 per cent of those polled, and the NDP were not far behind with the support of 27.4 per cent.
The Conservatives maintained their substantial lead in the Prairies with the support of 60.5 per cent of those surveyed, followed by the NDP at 25 per cent and the Liberals at 12.9 per cent.
And in British Columbia, the Conservatives had the support of 41.2 per cent of respondents, the NDP was second with the support of 34.9 per cent, and the Liberals trailed at 17.9 per cent.
The smaller sample sizes in the regions means the margin of error is expected to be higher than it is for the national numbers.
Nearly half of respondents said the party platforms would be their top consideration as they head to the ballot box but more than a quarter said their impression of the party leaders would be the decision factor.
Health care remained the top national concern in the minds of those surveyed. Jobs and the economy ranked second.