TORONTO (Reuters) - The Conservative Party has won back some ground lost to the opposition Liberals in a public opinion poll released on Thursday as controversy eased around changes the government is making to next year's census.
The Ekos tracking survey showed the Conservatives at 32.5 percent popular support, up from 29.7 percent in the previous survey, when support for the party fell below 30 percent for the first time in four years.
Support for the centrist Liberal Party was at 27.9 percent, down from 28.5 percent in the previous poll.
Before the census issue erupted earlier in the summer, the Conservatives had held a notable lead over the Liberals.
"While this change is only marginally significant, it pulls the Conservatives out of a statistical tie into a small but significant lead," Ekos said of the poll it conducted August 11 to August 17.
It said the results also showed that the census debate was still affecting voter preferences among highly educated Canadians.
The government plans to eliminate a mandatory long-form census, saying the questions are an invasion of privacy, but the change has been criticized as endangering the census's integrity.
"When we look at what happened to the voting intentions of the highly educated, it appears almost certain that the narrowing race can be traced to the controversy over the government's decision to end the compulsory long form (census)," Ekos said of its poll findings.
"Changes in the demographic anatomy of support lead to the conclusion that this controversy has triggered a fairly significant shift in the electorate during a fairly quiet summer period when little else is at play."
The Ekos poll showed that if an election were to be held tomorrow, the left-leaning New Democratic Party would have 17.4 percent of the vote. Support for Canada's Greens was at 10.3 percent, and Bloc Quebecois at 9.2 percent, with both parties losing support slightly to the Liberals.
The poll also showed the Liberals gaining support among highly educated Canadians, describing voter preference in the category as a potential "new fault line pitting the expert and professional classes against the rest of the political spectrum."
The survey polled 2,979 respondents aged 18 and over and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by Pav Jordan; editing by Peter Galloway