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NDP leadership candidates Martin Singh, from left, Niki Ashton, Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash take part in a debate in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday March 11, 2012.

The Canadian Press

Less than a year after they voted to send the federal New Democrats to the benches of the Official Opposition, large numbers of Canadians say an NDP government would be good for the country.

A new poll released Friday by Nanos Research suggests that 49 per cent of Canadians agree or somewhat agree that Canada would be in good hands if the New Democrats were in office.

"I think what this shows is that the elevation of the NDP to the Official Opposition, as the party with the second greatest number of seats in the House of Commons, not just elevates it as an opposition but also elevates it in terms of perhaps someday forming a government," said Nik Nanos, the president of the polling firm. "It's a natural progression for them. They've moved up to the next level."

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The survey was conducted between March 9 and 12 as the seven candidates for the party's leadership were entering the last leg of the race.

The number of respondents who said they felt positive about the NDP as a governing party was relatively consistent across all regions of Canada. Men and women agreed in approximately equal numbers. And, although people under the age of 29 were generally more willing than older people to embrace the notion of an NDP government, the opinions did not vary dramatically across the various age groups.

The poll also suggests that two-thirds of Canadians believe that the New Democrats have been good for Canada as the Official Opposition. That does not surprise Mr. Nanos. "That has been the traditional frame through which Canadians have seen the NDP," he said.

Although no margin of error was given for the poll, data from the online survey of 1,004 Canadians was weighted using the latest census results to ensure that the final sample group was representative of the Canadian populace and, as much as possible, a true reflection of broad public opinion.

With the leadership contest in its final stages, Nanos also asked respondents about the qualities they would like to see in the person chosen to succeed Jack Layton. More than two-thirds of those surveyed cited honesty and integrity. Charisma and personality were second, trumping leadership skills, groundedness, compassion, the ability to build consensus, the ability to tackle economic issues and common sense.

Honesty and integrity are always at the top of the list when people are asked what they want in a leader, Mr. Nanos said. Charisma is not usually seen as so important – but, in this case, it is.

"When Canadians are looking at the leadership convention, they will probably be judging whoever the winner is by those things," he said. "Do we believe that this person has the level of integrity that other effective NDP leaders have had, are they charismatic, and can they be the rallying point for the popular front?"

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The survey also asked those participants who said they had voted for the NDP in the spring election why they chose the party over the other options. More than one in four – 26.7 per cent – said they voted for the local New Democrat candidate because of Mr. Layton. Just 17.7 per cent said they were drawn to the party's policies or platform.

"If you were an NDP partisan, you would probably be disappointed at that number," Mr. Nanos said. "For the New Democrats, who are gathering this weekend to select a new leader, platform and policy is critically important to them, but the reality is that for Canadians [in general]personality and integrity is more important."

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