OTTAWA - Conservatives and Liberals are locked in a tug-of-war for the hearts of voters who don't seem particularly keen on either of them, a new poll suggests.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey gave the Tories a slight edge at 32 per cent to the Liberals' 30 per cent.
The results suggest the Tories have arrested the slide that began early in the new year amid a public outcry over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to suspend Parliament until March 3.
Support for the Liberals, who initially benefited from the prorogation outrage, has dipped two points since the end of January.
Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg said the two parties are back where they've been for most of the last four or five years: locked in a virtual dead heat, well shy of the support needed to win a majority.
While one party periodically pulls briefly ahead of the other, Gregg said the numbers inevitably return "to a default position where both parties are essentially tied."
"It goes back to 2005, 2004 arguably, where really both parties have been just kind of stuck in the mud with their wheels spinning," he said.
"What it shows is that there continues to be huge pockets of resistance to both major alternatives that are available for voting choice."
Nationally, the poll put the NDP at 16 per cent and the Greens at 10.
In Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois was dominant with 41 per cent, to 23 per cent for the Liberals, 15 for the Conservatives, 10 for the Greens and nine for the NDP.
In Ontario, the Liberals were at 39 per cent to the Tories' 34 per cent, the NDP's 15 and the Greens' 10.
Voter volatility was most evident in British Columbia, where the Tories stood at 34 per cent and the NDP moved into second place with 26 per cent to the Liberals' 23 per cent and the Greens' 15.
The Tories remained comfortably ahead of the Liberals in Alberta (58 to 16 per cent) and in Manitoba-Saskatchewan (48 to 23 per cent).
But the Liberals led in the Atlantic provinces with 36 per cent to the NDP's 28, the Tories' 27 and the Green's six per cent.
Gregg said the Liberals and Tories each have a core of support that hasn't changed much over the last few years. The periodic spikes and dips in support levels are a result of a "battle for increasingly narrow constituencies" in the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver and among women voters.
The fluctuations appear to be driven primarily by Harper, whose fortunes tend to rise when he behaves in a statesmanlike manner but drop again the moment he does something that is perceived as overly partisan, which Gregg said reinforces voters' lingering doubts about the prime minister.
However, last fall's jump for the Tories seemed fuelled primarily by voter anger at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's vow to defeat the minority Harper government at the earliest opportunity. The Tories enjoyed, on average, a seven-point lead over the Liberals throughout the autumn.
That dwindled as Ignatieff retreated from his election threat and all but vanished last month amid the fallout from the prorogation controversy.