Jack Layton's New Democrats are closing in on Michael Ignatieff's struggling Liberals with few precious days left in the race to the polls on May 2, according to the latest Nanos Research numbers.
"We should all get ready for a wild ride in the close of this campaign," pollster Nik Nanos told The Globe Thursday.
Nationally, Mr. Nanos has Stephen Harper's Conservatives 12 points ahead of the Liberals - 39.0 per cent compared to 26.7 per cent. This is the second consecutive night that the Liberals numbers have decreased.
The NDP, meanwhile, is at 22.1 per cent - up from 19.8 per cent the night before. The Bloc Québécois is at 7.5 per cent and the Green Party is at 3.4 per cent.
"The New Democrats always have difficulty maintaining their support above 20 per cent, at least in the past," Mr. Nanos said. "So the big question is, is that their new normal? Can they sustain it?"
Again it's the regions that tell the story of this campaign, with Jack Layton as the protagonist.
In Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, Mr. Nanos said the Layton "halo" effect - from his strong performance in Quebec - is spilling over.
Atlantic Canada now is shaping up to be a three-way race, with the NDP gaining every day for the past seven days. The Tories are at 36.3 per cent followed by the Liberals with 33.1 per cent and the NDP at 28.3 per cent. (There is a margin of error of plus or minus 9.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20 in the regional sample.)
In British Columbia, the Liberals have dropped significantly - Mr. Ignatieff has seen his support decrease from 33.5 per cent Monday to 22.7 per cent Wednesday night. The Conservatives have 43.5 per cent support and the NDP are at 29.6 per cent, up from 24.7 per cent the night before. (The margin of error in that province is plus or minus 7.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
In Quebec, Mr. Layton remains strong although the Bloc is still in first place with 32 per cent support compared to 23.4 per cent for the NDP, 20.8 per cent for the Liberals and 17.5 per cent for the Conservatives. "At 32 per cent it would be the worst ever showing for the BQ in a federal election," Mr. Nanos said, noting that their previous worst showing was in 1997 where they won 37.9 per cent of the vote.
(The margin of error in Quebec is plus or minus 6.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
Ontario is the weakest province for the New Democrats where they have only 14.6 per cent support compared to 44.8 per cent for the Tories and 36.4 per cent for the Liberals. (There is a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
Given the NDP surge, Mr. Nanos noted that Mr. Layton - who "personally has a lot of momentum in terms of his brand" - will be under more attacks from his political opponents. But this could actually help the party as any focus will make them appear more relevant.
In addition, the pollster said the Bloc and Liberals may inadvertently be driving votes the NDP's way. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe's challenge to Quebeckers to stop a Harper majority government - without actually specifying to vote for the Bloc - could have actually pushed support to the New Democrats, which is also a progressive party and attractive to Quebeckers.
And the Liberal's aggressive attack ads on the Conservatives on health care may have repelled support from Mr. Harper but driven it to Mr. Layton as the NDP is considered credible on the issue.
"It looks like two of the opposition parties have in a way created an atmosphere that has helped the New Democrats," Mr. Nanos said.
The three-day rolling poll of 1,015 Canadians was conducted between April 18 and April 20. The national sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.