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FILE PHOTO: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Feb.6, 2013 .

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Popular support for the NDP slid during the second half of 2012, leaving the Official Opposition behind the Conservatives and locked in a statistical tie with the Liberals, a new poll suggests.

The Nanos Research Survey puts support for the New Democratic Party among committed voters at 27.1 per cent in late January 2013, down from the 33.6 per cent when Nanos conducted a similar poll last May.

In the latest poll, 27.6 per cent of respondents said they supported the Liberals and 34.3 per cent said they backed the Conservatives.

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While NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has emerged as a strong opponent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons, the numbers suggest the party's message may not be resonating as well outside of Ottawa, pollster Nik Nanos said.

"The fact that he's effective as leader of the opposition means that he's effective in the House of Commons," he said. "But, you know, translating that into support and excitement outside of the House of Commons is a completely different beast."

Despite the recent decline – one of several fluctuations in the NDP's fortunes – support for the party has consistently remained above the levels seen before the last federal election, according to the polls.

Mr. Mulcair was elected leader of the NDP last March, nearly one year after the party's 2011 election success. The NDP experienced its most recent bump in support in the spring of 2012, Nanos research polls suggest, but has since seen some erosion.

"When you make that kind of [electoral] breakthrough, many times it's hard to maintain that momentum," Mr. Nanos said. "And I think for the NDP that's the key thing that they're up against right now."

At the same time, support for the Liberals has increased overall during the past eight months, the poll suggests. Mr. Nanos said the change could be connected to the fact that the party has been gearing up for its leadership race. "Many times, when parties don't have leaders, they do better in popular support, because there's nothing to repel voters."

Mr. Nanos said the diversity of candidates running for the job offers "a buffet of leadership" options, allowing Canadians to pick and choose the qualities they like. "Until they select their next leader, we won't really know what their true level of support is."

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Jobs and the economy remained high priorities for Canadians, according to the poll, with 22.4 per cent of all respondents putting those issues as their top national concern.

The random telephone poll of 1,000 adult Canadians was conducted between January 26 and 31. The responses of 780 people who said they are committed voters are considered to accurately reflect the views of the Canadian public within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey questions were asked before Senator Patrick Brazeau was arrested last week. Mr. Brazeau has since been kicked out of the Conservative caucus, but the controversy has raised questions about the decision to appoint him as a senator in the first place.

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