A new poll shows Liberals and Opposition New Democrats are virtually tied in second place for national support, and federal Conservatives leading nationally.
The latest Nanos Research poll shows support for the Conservatives remains relatively unchanged at 34.3 per cent with the Liberals at 27.6, the NDP at 27.1, the Green Party at 4.7 and the BQ at 4.6.
The national random telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians 18 years of age and older was conducted between Jan. 26-31, 2013. It is accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.
According to Nik Nanos, President and CEO of Nanos Research, when you look at the trend line for the NDP and Grits going back 12 months "a significant pattern emerges."
The Liberals have made "incremental gains" over the past 12 months, while the New Democrats have suffered "incremental losses," Nanos told CBC News in a telephone interview on Sunday.
For instance, in December 2011, support for Conservatives was at 36.5 per cent followed by the NDP at 28.7 per cent, and the Liberals at 25.6 per cent.
By April 2012, after Thomas Mulcair was elected party leader, the Conservatives were tied with the NDP at 34.7 per cent and 32.4 per cent respectively, with the Liberals in third place at 23.3 per cent.
In July 2012, after interim Liberal leader Bob Rae announced he was not going to run for the leadership of the federal Liberals and Parliament adjourned for the summer, support for the NDP slid to 30.3 per cent while support for Liberals climbed to 26.5 per cent.
By November 2012, after Liberal MP Justin Trudeau announced he would be running for the party's top job, support for the Liberals climbed to 29 per cent putting them in second place for national support, with the NDP in third place at 27.2 per cent.
What this shows, said Nanos, is with greater focus on the Liberal leadership race, a greater number of Canadians are at the very least beginning to look at the Liberals.
Another possible explanation for this trend line, according to Nanos, is that parties actually do better when they don't have a permanent leader because voters have several people to choose from.
The challenge for the New Democrats, who have been trying to advance a narrative that they're a government in waiting, said Nanos, is to show to Canadians what a Mulcair-lead government would look like.
Jobs and the economy
Respondents also said they are concerned with jobs and the economy more than they are concerned with health care or the environment.
The Nanos survey also shows that 22.4 per cent of respondents said jobs and the economy remained the top national issue of concern, with 14.8 per cent of respondents listing health care, and 7.9 per cent listing the environment.
The test for the Conservatives will be how well or how how poorly the economy does between now and the next federal election in 2015, said Nanos.
The Conservatives have built their brand around "sound fiscal stewardship" and that could hurt them if there's another economic downturn, Nanos said, just as it could play in their favour if the economy performs well.
The Canadian economy shrank for the first time in six months with 22,000 jobs lost in January, Statistics Canada data showed last Friday.
"I'm disappointed with the [jobs] numbers this month but I remain very optimistic that the trend going forward in 2013 will be positive," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters following an announcement on Friday in Burnaby, BC.
The federal government's priority remains to balance the books in time for the next election in 2015, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told the Economic Club of Canada last Wednesday in Ottawa.
And while the NDP is calling on the federal governement to commit to to further infrastructure funding in the upcoming spring budget, Flaherty told reporters "no decision" has been made yet.