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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's ruling Conservatives could well turn their minority government into a majority if the opposition forces an early election, the Ekos polling firm said on Thursday.
However, a Harris Decima poll released later on Thursday suggested the Conservatives were still short of majority territory.
Ekos said the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are now 15 percentage points ahead of the Liberals, who started sliding last month when they decided to try to take the government down less than a year after the last election.
"Following last week's movement upward in the polls, Canada's federal Conservatives have solidified an impressive, potentially majority-producing lead among Canadians, with the Liberals now mired at the same historic lows under Michael Ignatieff that they suffered under former leader Stephane Dion," Ekos President Frank Graves said.
Ignatieff became Liberal leader in December after Dion led the party in the October 2008 election to its worst showing, in terms of percentage of vote, since the 1860s.
Ekos put the Liberals at 25.5 percent, down slightly from last week and below the 26.3 percent they got in the 2008 election. The Conservatives were at 40.7 percent, up a point from last week and 3 points up from the election.
The leftist New Democrats were little changed at 14.3 percent, the Greens were at 10.5 percent and the separatist Bloc Quebecois at 9.1 percent.
The Harris-Decima survey, released by Canadian Press, had the Conservatives ahead by only 35 percent to 28 percent, a lead that would likely yield another minority Conservative government.
CP quoted Harris-Decima pollster Doug Anderson as saying the data over the last three months showed a clear downward trend for the Liberals that should trouble them.
Ekos's Graves said voters were also becoming less pessimistic about the economy and showing a decided preference for smaller government, advocated by the Conservatives.
"All of this bodes well for Harper's Tories and poorly for Ignatieff's Liberals," Graves said.
A Liberal move to topple the government, which requires the support of at least one opposition party to stay in power, failed on October 1. Other confidence tests that could trigger an election will come in the next two months, though few observers now expect the government to be brought down.
The Conservatives currently have 143 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. Twelve more seats would give them a majority.
Ekos's automated telephone poll surveyed 2,729 Canadians October 7-13, a sample size that should be accurate to within 1.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
The Harris-Decima telephone survey started earlier, running October 1-12. It covered just over 2,000 people and carries a 2.2 point margin of error.
Reporting by Randall Palmer, editing by Rob Wilson