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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Liberals could suffer their worst electoral showing in nearly a quarter century, the Ekos polling company projected on Monday.
Based on surveys over the past three days, Ekos said the ruling Conservatives were slipping away from their chance to form a majority government, but could still take twice as many seats as the Liberals.
The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ended more than 12 years of Liberal rule in 2006 and are seeking a new mandate in the October 14 election.
Ekos projected the Conservatives would win 147 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, shy of the 155 needed for a majority but above the 127 they have now.
The Liberals would drop to 71 seats from 95. Their previous worst electoral result was in 1984 when they were reduced to 40 seats. The separatist Bloc Quebecois would rise by one seat to 49, the left-leaning New Democrats would pick up 10 seats to win 40, and the Greens would have one, Ekos projected.
The Ekos data was based on an automated telephone survey from Friday through Sunday, putting the Conservatives at 35 percent of the vote, the Liberals at 25 percent, the New Democrats at 19 percent, the Greens at 11 percent and the Bloc at 9 percent.
"The Conservatives continue to dominate this election, but this is as much a tribute to the Liberals' weakness as it is to Conservative strength," Ekos President Frank Graves said.
"The Tories have lost the powerful momentum they had in the period right before the (election was called), and they are now below what they would probably need to win a majority government."
Forty percent of popular support has with few exceptions been the minimum necessary to win a majority of seats.
Columnist Chantal Hebert warned in a column in Monday's Toronto Star that Liberal leader Stephane Dion, a former professor who is advocating a new carbon tax to be offset with income tax cuts, has little time to recover.
"Dion has at most a week to recast himself as a credible alternative to Harper or else the Liberals will find themselves on an irreversible course to a near-historical defeat next month," she wrote.
A smaller Nanos Research rolling poll released on Monday put the gap smaller than under Ekos. It had the Conservatives ahead 37 percent to 31 percent, with the New Democrats at 18 percent, the Greens at 9 and the Bloc at 6. A day earlier, Nanos had shown a 38-30 Conservative-Liberal split.
A rolling Harris Decima poll released on Monday by Canadian Press put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals 38 percent to 27 percent. On Sunday the poll had the Conservatives ahead 40 percent to 26 percent. It sees the New Democrats at 16 percent, the Greens at 9 percent and the Bloc at 8.
A few polls released in the first week of the campaign had put the Conservatives above the 40 percent level. Last month, they had been neck and neck with the Liberals.
Ekos surveyed 2,264 decided voters for a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Harris Decima surveyed 1,343 people over the past four days, for a 2.6 point error margin. Nanos based its survey, from Friday through Sunday, on 961 decided voters for a 3.2 point margin of error.
Editing by Rob Wilson