As another poll pegs NDP and Tory support at almost dead even, the dividing line between supporters of the government and supporters of the opposition is becoming clearer.
A new Ipsos-Reid poll for the National Post released Friday indicates the Conservatives have the support of 34 per cent of Canadians, compared to 33 per cent for the New Democrats. This is the fifth consecutive survey to put the margin between the two parties at two points or less. All were taken after the Mar. 24 NDP leadership convention, but unlike the other polls this is the first one to see the Conservatives slip from the high-30s.
Since Ipsos-Reid's last poll in early March, this marks a three point drop for the Tories and a four point gain for the New Democrats. The Liberals were down two points to only 21 per cent, echoing other recent results.
Though the country is splitting between right and left, this division is not uniform. Both the Conservatives and the NDP can lay claim to specific demographics.
The Conservatives perform best among male voters aged 55 years or older, rural Canadians, high-school graduates, income earners of $30,000 or more and people born in Canada.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, are strongest among women, Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34, those with a university education, people who earn less than $30,000 and immigrants.
This leaves a few voter groups up for grabs: the two parties are running generally even among urban Canadians, middle-aged voters, non-high school graduates and those with a college degree. This would seem to indicate that the battleground between the two parties is primarily in the suburbs, though every party manages to sway voters of all stripes to some extent.
That best describes the plight of the Liberals, who generally get uniform support no matter where a voter was born, how much they earn and what level of education they achieved. While this can sweep a party to a crushing victory when it is riding high in the polls, it also severely penalizes a party in a first-past-the-post system.
In Canada's three largest provinces, home to about 70 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, the battle lines are also being drawn. The Conservatives, despite the robocalls and the F-35 scandals, are still dominating in Ontario with 41 per cent support, up two points from early March. The New Democrats, meanwhile, have moved into a tie with the Liberals at 27 per cent.
Thomas Mulcair has had the anticipated effect in Quebec, boosting the NDP's fortunes by eight points to 41 per cent support, around where they were for the May 2011 vote. The Liberals have taken the lion's share of the losses, dropping eight points to only 15 per cent -- tied with the Tories.
And in British Columbia, the Conservatives and New Democrats are running neck-and-neck, as they have been in the vast majority of recent polls.
At this stage, it would appear that the fight for the suburban vote could decide the result of the next election. The NDP and Conservatives each have their bastions of strength in Quebec and the West, respectively. But if the New Democrats can infiltrate the suburbs, they will close the gap in Ontario and storm ahead in British Columbia. If the Conservatives can regain those votes, they will be in a strong position to romp to another majority. Both parties have launched national ad campaigns in the last few weeks, so they too seem to recognize that this race is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.