As members of the NDP get set to choose a new leader to succeed Jack Layton, a new poll finds that almost half of Canadians believe that Canada would benefit from having the New Democrats in office.

Results from the poll, released Friday by Nanos Research, found that 49 agree or somewhat agree that having an NDP federal government would be good for Canada.

Although Canadians under the age of 29 were more willing than older people to embrace the idea of the NDP in power, the opinions did not vary dramatically across the various age groups, nor across all regions of Canada.

The poll of more than 1,000 Canadians also found more than one in four Canadians who voted for the NDP in last spring's election said they voted for their local NDP candidate because of Layton, who died just three months after the election.

Only 17.7 per cent of respondents said they were drawn to the party's policies or platform, the poll found.

The poll, conducted between March 9 and 12, also asked respondents about the qualities they would like to see in the NDP's new leader. More than two-thirds cited honesty and integrity.

But charisma and personality were second – rating higher than leadership skills, the ability to build consensus, the ability to tackle economic issues, "groundedness", compassion, and common sense.

Whether NDP members get those qualities in their new leader will be decided this weekend, as thousands of card-carrying New Democrats gather in downtown Toronto for the biggest leadership showcase in NDP history.

Voters have already had four options on how to submit their ballot:

  1. Vote in advance online
  2. Vote in advance by mail-in ballot
  3. Vote online during the convention
  4. Attend the convention and vote in person

It's estimated that by Thursday morning, at least 47,000 of the 131,000 eligible members have already voted using the mail-in or online ballots.

With advance voting continuing until 11 a.m. today, it's possible that about half the ballots will already be cast by the time the actual convention begins.

Close to 4,000 delegates are expected to attend the convention -- almost twice the total of the last party leadership convention in 2003.

With seven candidates vying to become the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the selection process could involve several rounds of voting and backdoor deals between candidates.

Thomas Mulcair is considered by most to be the front-runner in the race -- and a new poll appears to back that up.

The poll by CROP suggests Mulcair is by far the preferred choice by Quebecers, with Brian Topp a distant second; all other contenders barely registered.

In order to be crowned the new leader, the winner has to receive more than 50 per cent of membership support. If no one does that on the first ballot, the candidate who received the lowest percentage of votes will be dropped and another ballot held. Voting will continue until a winner emerges.

Brad Lavigne, the principal secretary to the Leader of the Official Opposition, says there's no telling whether it could all be wrapped up in the first round of voting

"It's very hard to tell," he told CTV's Canada AM Friday morning from the convention floor.

"We know that a lot of folks have already voted, which means their votes are locked in, but we also have a lot of folks who are waiting and seeing. They're going to see what transpires on the first ballot and they're going to be voting in real time online."

The convention is set to move into full swing around 1:30 p.m. ET when the leadership showcases begin. During that time, the candidates will each be given 20 minutes to make their last case to the membership about why they should become leader.

At 7 p.m., the party will hold a tribute to former leader Jack Layton.

The chance to vote in the first round closes at 9 a.m. on Saturday.