The tabling of the next Ontario budget and subsequent decision by opposition parties on whether to pull the plug on Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government is getting closer and closer.

A new poll will not make that decision any easier.

An interactive voice response survey by EKOS Research for iPolitics taken between April 3-10 and surveying 1,084 Ontarians puts Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and Wynne’s Liberals in a neck-and-neck race, with Tories at 32 per cent and Liberals at 31 per cent support. The New Democrats are not far behind at 26 per cent.

Since EKOS was last in the field at the beginning of February, just after Wynne’s leadership victory, support has hardly budged. The NDP has held steady while the Liberals slipped less than two points. The three-point gain by the Tories is within the margin of error and, overall, the numbers are similar to what polls have shown since Wynne became premier.

Hudak has already decided to try to defeat the government and this poll gives him reason to. While the margin is tight among the general population, EKOS estimates that among likely voters (those who voted in the last federal election) the PC lead is as wide as 11 points, with 38 per cent support to 27 per cent apiece for the New Democrats and Liberals.

The potential to push the Liberals to third and to form the Official Opposition might appeal to NDP leader Andrea Horwath, but with these numbers the Tories would almost certainly form a majority government. That would provide her party with little influence in the legislature, whereas the fate of Wynne’s government currently lies in her hands.

Horwath does have some reason to believe that she could improve her party’s support, however. An Angus-Reid poll conducted in mid-March gave her an approval rating of 49 per cent, head and shoulders above Wynne’s 36 per cent rating and Hudak’s 33 per cent. And while Wynne had a disapproval rating of 37 per cent and Hudak sat at a woeful 50 per cent, only 32 per cent of Ontarians disapprove of Horwath’s performance. Her personal appeal could make the difference in a close, three-way campaign.

Still, the demographics are in Hudak’s favour. His party leads by three points among Ontarians aged 45-64 and by four points (with 39 per cent) among those aged 65 or older. This is the cohort that votes in larger numbers.

The Greens, who had 10 per cent in the poll and 6 per cent among likely voters, derived much of their support from those under the age of 25.

On the face of it, the poll points towards the status quo: the Liberals and Tories locked in a close fight for first with the NDP in third (though close enough to be a threat). Those are the sort of numbers Hudak can gamble on, but it is a much riskier affair for both Wynne and Horwath. And with a disadvantage among those most likely to cast their ballot on election day, the hazards are all the greater.

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, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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