The Conservatives have increased their lead over the New Democrats in the first weeks of 2013, according to two new national polls.

The polls were conducted by Forum Research (for The National Post) and Angus-Reid on January 16 and 17, surveying a total of over 3,600 Canadians by interactive voice response and via an online panel, respectively.

Both polls show very similar results, with Forum pegging the Conservative lead at eight points and Angus-Reid giving them a six point edge. The surveys suggest that 35 to 36 per cent of Canadians would support the Tories in an election. The New Democrats trailed with between 28 and 29 per cent, while the Liberals were third with 22 or 25 per cent support.

In what direction the parties are heading is more difficult to pin down. Since Forum's last poll just before Christmas, the Conservatives gained five points while the NDP held steady and the Liberals dropped slightly. Since Angus-Reid's poll just after New Year's, the Conservatives held steady while the NDP dropped and the Liberals gained. Without any pre-holiday poll from Angus-Reid, it is impossible to say with certainty whether the break has been good for the Tories, or whether Forum was just reverting to the mean.

Both polls confirm that there is a gender gap in the country. The Conservatives dominated among men, enjoying a 41 to 25 per cent advantage in the Forum poll and a 39 to 28 per cent margin in the Angus-Reid survey. But among women, the race is far closer, with the Conservatives and New Democrats tied in one poll and separated by a single point in the other, at around 30 per cent apiece. Closing the gap among male voters would go a long way for the NDP in displacing the Conservatives, but if the Tories could increase their support among women they would be in a virtually unassailable position.

Regionally, the polls are also in agreement in giving the Conservatives significant leads in Alberta, the Prairies and Ontario, while the race is close between the Tories and NDP in British Columbia. The Liberals were ahead in both polls in Atlantic Canada, while Quebec appears to be a three-way race between the NDP, Liberals and Bloc Québécois.

Might this change after the Liberal leadership race comes to a close? Perhaps, but the surveys suggest Justin Trudeau's appeal is starting to wane.

The two polls make Trudeau the odds-on favourite to win, with Angus-Reid showing a majority of Canadians think Trudeau will prevail. Forum had the Montreal MP as the best choice for leader of 34 per cent of the population (Marc Garneau was well behind at 10 per cent). Among Liberal supporters, Trudeau led with 63 per cent to only six per cent for Garneau.

A Trudeau-led Liberal Party would also best the Conservatives, with 35 to 33 per cent according to Forum and 34 to 33 per cent by Angus-Reid's estimation. Those numbers are almost identical, but they also both show that the Trudeau Liberals are trending downwards. In December, Forum put a Trudeau-led Liberal Party at 39 per cent support, while Angus-Reid had it at 42 per cent just a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, both polls suggest the Liberals could get a significant boost if Trudeau wins and that the NDP would suffer the most (they are pushed down to 22 and 21 per cent in the two polls). Whether that kind of shift will actually occur when the rubber hits the road is another matter entirely.

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.

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  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with French President Francois Hollande On Jan.16, 2013. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/14/canadian-mission-mali-france-cargo-plane_n_2472597.html">Canada is contributing one of its large C-17 military cargo planes to deliver supplies to the capital of Mali after a request from France</a>. <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em>

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  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a photo opportunity with Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism Maxime Bernier and entrepreneurs at CBC headquarters Jan.14, 2013 in Montreal.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens to a question during a news conference, Monday, January 14, 2013 in Montreal.

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  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper hangs a photo of his mother, Margaret, on the 'Nonna Wall' at Ritorno Restaurant in Oakville on Jan. 4, 2013.

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