While Stephen Harper's Conservatives still maintain a lead in national voting intentions, more Canadians say they agree with Thomas Mulcair's values than those of the prime minister.
However, Canadians are split down the middle on whether the New Democrats are ready to govern the country.
These are the findings of an Ipsos-Reid year-end survey which found Mulcair and Harper put up similar numbers.
Canadians gave Mulcair a 44 per cent approval rating, with 56 per cent disapproving of his performance as leader of the opposition. That compares favourably with Harper, who managed a 45 per cent approval rating in the same poll.
Yet, just 14 per cent of Canadians "strongly" disapprove of Mulcair's performance, roughly half the number the prime minister registered.
Not surprisingly, Mulcair's best and worst scores were in Quebec and Alberta, with a 64 per cent approval rating in the former and a 69 per cent disapproval in the latter. But Mulcair also scored 68 per cent disapproval in British Columbia, a province in which the New Democrats need to make gains if they are to challenge the Conservatives for government in 2015.
A large proportion of Canadians think the NDP is up to the job. While a majority (55 per cent) disagreed that "the NDP is ready to be Canada's next government," the 45 per cent who did agree are more than enough to give the New Democrats a huge majority government. It is hard to imagine the NDP putting up those kind of numbers on readiness to govern under most of Jack Layton's tenure or in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the party had around 10 per cent support.
In fact, in terms of putting together a coalition of voters, the NDP is in a good position: over 40 per cent of respondents in every region of the country, except Alberta (24 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (39 per cent), said the NDP is ready to govern.
Even on what is supposed to be the NDP's weakness the party polls relatively well. One-half of Canadians said that they "trust Thomas Mulcair and the NDP to do a good job of managing Canada's economy," including 50 per cent of Ontarians and 71 per cent of Quebecers. While Canadians were more sure that the NDP could not be trusted (23 per cent strongly disagreed) than that they absolutely could be (11 per cent strongly agreed), it would appear the New Democrats are not as susceptible to the Tories' attacks on their economic prowess as Harper might hope.
Perhaps most encouraging for the New Democrats is that more Canadians felt they share "the NDP's values when it comes to where Canada should be headed" than they did the Conservative Party's values. A slim majority (51 per cent) agreed with that statement, while only 44 per cent agreed that they shared Harper and the Conservatives' values on Canada's future.
There is a catch, however. Alone on the right, the Tories have a greater command of the 49 per cent of respondents who don't share Mulcair's values than the NDP does on the 56 per cent who are at odds with Harper.
Nevertheless, these kinds of numbers show the New Democrats do indeed have the staying power to maintain the breakthrough of 2011 and are seen as a legitimate option for government by enough Canadians to win an election -- hardly imaginable just two years ago.
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.