OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's governing Conservatives no longer have enough popular support to be assured of a majority government if an election were held now but would easily regain another minority, an Ekos poll showed on Thursday.
Their lead over the Liberal Party, the biggest opposition party, has dropped to a little more than 10 points, enough to win reelection handily but down from the 15-point edge they had three weeks ago.
The current standings almost exactly mirror the results from the October 2008 election, when the Liberals went down to their worst showing, in terms of percentage of vote, in more than a century.
"From the Liberal perspective, these results must be deeply troubling. Despite a new leader, and party coffers refilling, the Liberals are not competitive for government at the moment," Ekos President Frank Graves said. "They desperately need something to shake up the current pattern of support."
He added that it might be mildly encouraging for the Liberals that the gap has shrunk. They have attacked the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, over the government's handling of the H1N1 flu vaccine campaign and the injection of stimulus measures into the economy.
The Conservatives have 37.4 percent of popular support in the poll, down one point from last week and more than three points less than three weeks ago.
The Liberals were at 26.8 percent support, approximately where they have been for a month.
"This is the repetition of a disappointing pattern from Stephen Harper's perspective. Whenever the Tories surge up into majority territory as they did a few weeks ago, they soon find themselves slipping back, as they have done now," Graves said.
The Liberals had been roughly tied with the Conservatives for most of the summer but fell sharply behind after they decided in early September to try to bring the government down and force a new election.
It now is all but certain that the government will stay in power for the next several months, with the support of the small New Democratic Party.
The New Democrats stand at 16.3 percent support in the Ekos survey, marginally less than a week ago and two points less than their electoral result in 2008. The Greens are at 10.0 percent and the separatist Bloc Quebecois at 9.4 percent.
The automated telephone survey of 3,327 Canadians was carried out from October 28 to November 3. Such a sample size should be accurate to within 1.7 points 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway