OTTAWA - Two recent polls suggest Canadians are doing a lot of tire-kicking as they consider their voting options in the next federal election.

But the large national samples, and an Ontario analysis, also suggest some voters may currently be looking away from the federal NDP as a preferred political vehicle, to the benefit of the Liberal party.

A new poll by Leger Marketing, released Wednesday to The Canadian Press, put Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives marginally ahead of the Liberals one year after the Tory election victory.

The national Leger survey, taken between Jan. 15 and Jan. 21, had 35 per cent of respondents choosing the Conservatives as their preferred option in the next federal election, while 32 per cent supported the Liberals.

A recent poll by Decima Research, which overlapped the Leger sample period by one day, put the Liberals ahead of the Tories 33-32 nationally.

Both the Leger and Decima polls had margins of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, which effectively placed the two top federal parties in a statistical dead heat.

The surveys each put NDP support at 13 per cent nationally, down from the 17.5 per cent of the popular vote the New Democrats won last Jan. 23 to claim 29 seats in the 2006 federal election.

Leger and Decima also put the Greens at nine per cent.

"The results, basically, don't have a lot of good news for anybody, I would say, outside the Green party,'' said Christian Bourque, vice-president of research for Montreal-based Leger.

"Nobody in there should be reading any signs of setting off an election. It certainly does not suggest any majority scenario.''

Harper unconcerned

A day after celebrating the first anniversary of his election, Harper shrugged off his party's apparent lacklustre support.

"I'm not concerned about the polls,'' Harper told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"It was only a little over a year ago that the polls all said we were actually in the 20s and couldn't possibly form a government.''

Pollster Bruce Anderson of Decima Research analysed his firm's weekly polling data from Ontario over the last year, and found that NDP support has been bleeding to the Liberals and the Green party in four vote-rich regions of the province.

The four regions comprise almost a third of Canada's 308 federal seats in the House of Commons -- making them crucial to any party's electoral success.

Only in the so-called 905 belt surrounding suburban Toronto have the Conservatives improved relative to the Liberals since last January -- although they still trail by three percentage points in what amounts to a statistical draw.

Elsewhere, in Eastern Ontario and Southwestern Ontario the Tories have given up the leads they held last election day, while in Toronto's downtown 416 area code, the Liberal lead over the Tories has climbed to 40 percentage points from 28 last January.

But more telling are the NDP numbers in a series of polls that Decima averaged over four-week periods for greater reliability.

In Eastern Ontario, where the NDP got 17 per cent of the vote last January, the party is averaging 14 per cent -- and the Green party is at 12 per cent.

In the 905 area code, the NDP has dropped to 10 per cent from 16 per cent last January, with the Green party currently polling nine per cent.

In downtown Toronto, home to both NDP Leader Jack Layton and his wife and fellow MP Olivia Chow, NDP support is running at 12 per cent, down from 21 in the election results. The Greens have eight per cent.

And in Southwestern Ontario, the NDP and Greens are tied with 15 per cent support. The NDP polled 22 per cent in last January's election.   

Anderson says that NDP support in Ontario has been highly significant for the outcome of the last two national elections -- and could prove so again.

"In 2004, NDP support shifted to the Liberals in the closing days of the campaign, producing a Liberal minority,'' said the pollster.

"In 2006, fatigue with the Liberals was more pronounced, NDP support held, and the Conservatives won a minority.''

Anderson argues that polling data suggests the challenge for the Conservative party may appear to be beyond the party's control: "the number of voters who have been drifting from the NDP towards the Liberals over the course of the year.''

The Decima analysis comes from weekly surveys of more than 300 Ontario residents each.   

The Leger survey asked 1,500 voters across the country who they would be most likely to vote for in a federal election. The poll's margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.