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crunching numbers

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a meeting in his Langevin Block office in Ottawa January 18, 2012.CHRIS WATTIE

A year after the federal election, Stephen Harper's Conservatives and Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats are almost neck-and-neck in national voting intentions. But while the gain for the main opposition party is well within the norm, the Prime Minister has lost more support than he did one year after his election victories in 2006 and 2008.

A weighted average of all public polls puts Conservative support at 34 per cent nationwide and narrowly ahead of the New Democrats, who trail with 32.9 per cent support. This represents a gain of 2.3 points over the last year for the NDP but a loss of 5.6 points for the Conservatives since the election. Compared to Mr. Harper's past performances, this is a dramatic drop.

One year after the Conservatives were first elected in 2006, the party had slipped to 33 per cent in the polls from their 36-per-cent election result, a drop of three points. At the time, the Liberals under Stéphane Dion had picked up four points to take a narrow one-point lead over the Tories. The NDP had 13 per cent support, down four points.

The first year of Stephen Harper's second term as Prime Minister had a positive effect on his party's national support, as the Conservatives increased to 39 per cent in October of 2009 from the 38 per cent the Tories captured in October 2008. This time under Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals still picked up two points over the course of the year, while the New Democrats dropped three points to 15 per cent.

This makes Mr. Mulcair's roughly two-point improvement upon the performance of his predecessor very similar to the gains made by the Liberal opposition in 2007 and 2009. But Mr. Harper's six-point loss between May 2011 and now is about twice as large as his first rocky year in office.

Unlike the third-place New Democrats in 2007 and 2009, the Liberals have managed to improve upon their election result one year later. They average 21.7 per cent support, a gain of 2.8 points since May 2011.

The Bloc Québécois stands at 5.8 per cent support nationally, while the Greens are at 4.4 per cent.

With the gap narrowing to little more than a point, the Conservatives can nevertheless bank on their advantage in the west and their still-significant lead in Ontario to come out on top in the seat count. With these levels of support,'s seat-projection model forecasts 135 seats for the Conservatives (or around 153 when the House of Commons is expanded to 338 seats).

However, that would put them in minority territory. This is especially significant because, due to the second collapse of the Bloc Québécois's vote in the wake of Mr. Mulcair's leadership win, the New Democrats (with 117 seats) and the Liberals (51), would alone be able to command a majority in the House of Commons (in the expanded House, the numbers would be around 124 and 56 seats, respectively). In other words, a Liberal-supported NDP minority government or a coalition government between the two parties would be a more likely outcome than a fourth term for Mr. Harper.

For the New Democrats to be in a position to win the next election on their own they will need to improve their fortunes in Ontario. The Conservatives still lead with 37.9 per cent support, enough to give them a majority of the province's seats. However, the Tories are down 6.5 points since the last election, much of that loss being made up by the NDP. They trail with 29.3 per cent, up 3.7 points since May 2011.

Quebec is reverting to where it was on election night, with the NDP at 40.2 per cent support. While that is down 2.7 points, this is a dramatic rebound compared to the high-20s the NDP was polling at during the leadership convention. If an election were held today, virtually all of their rookie MPs would become sophomores. The Bloc trails in second with 22.2 per cent (-1.2), followed by the Liberals at 17.1 per cent (+2.9) and the Conservatives at 15.7 per cent (-0.8).

The New Democrats are also leading in Atlantic Canada, up 8.1 points since the last election with 37.6 per cent support. The Conservatives have dropped 7.6 points here to only 30.3 per cent. They are also down in British Columbia, having slipped 10.1 points to only 35.4 per cent support. Both the Liberals and the NDP have split those Tory losses, and the New Democrats have moved ahead in the battleground province with 38 per cent support.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are also setting up to be a new battleground, with the Conservatives down a massive 14.1 points since the last election to only 40.7 per cent support. The NDP, up 7.9 points, is nipping at their heels with 36.8 per cent. At these levels, the New Democrats should not be shut-out of Saskatchewan for very long.

Alberta remains in the Tory fold, though the Conservatives are still down 11.9 points in the province. They nevertheless lead with 54.9 per cent, but with 21.9 per cent support the New Democrats could win a second seat in Edmonton.

The recent Conservative troubles over robo-calls and the F-35 purchase are undoubtedly taking a toll on the government's levels, while the honeymoon of Mr. Mulcair is also likely playing a role. But in both 2007 and 2009, the Conservatives were facing off against new opposition leaders as well. Though the drop in support they have suffered is significant, this is only the first anniversary of their majority victory. Where they will stand on the fourth anniversary will be more important still. 's projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 308 ridings in the country, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

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