OTTAWA - Conservatives and Liberals might want to think twice before plunging the country into another fall election, a new poll suggests.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates the two main federal parties remain locked in a dead heat, neither within range of winning a majority.

According to the poll, the parties were in a statistical tie, with 32 per cent support for the Liberals and 31 per cent for the Tories.

The NDP were at 16 per cent, the Greens at 11, and the Bloc Quebecois at nine.

The numbers have barely budged throughout the summer, a period in which voters are typically disengaged.

"It's hard to believe that any party would be sort of clamouring to have an election this fall given that none of the parties are even at 35, let alone 40 per cent, and you pretty much need 40 to be thinking that you're anywhere near a majority," said Jeff Walker, Harris-Decima's senior vice-president.

The findings are consistent with those of most other polls throughout the summer. However, a recent Ipsos-Reid poll, which surveyed half as many respondents, suggested the Tories had amassed a commanding 10-point lead.

Despite the less-than-encouraging polling numbers, some Liberals are eager for an autumn election and are pushing leader Michael Ignatieff to topple the minority Tory government.

The Liberals will have an opportunity on Sept. 30 to force a confidence vote, most likely over employment insurance if it happens. The two parties are engaged in acrimonious negotiations aimed at making it easier to qualify for EI benefits.

Ignatieff insists he wants to make Parliament work but he's also indulged in a bit of sabre rattling, warning that it's becoming harder and harder to justify propping up Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

By contrast, the Conservatives are warning against the prospect of another election less than a year after the last national vote. They pounced Monday on Ignatieff's assertion that an election wouldn't create political instability.

"There's not one single person in the world who'd agree with him on that. You can't just say things that are so outrageously false," said Transport Minister John Baird.

"It's clear the economy is at a critical stage. We're seeing some good positive signs of economic activity but they're fragile. I think the last thing the country needs right now is the political instability that an election would cause."

Baird said an election would mean government would "grind to a halt," with decision making and financial commitments put on hold throughout the campaign and beyond until a new cabinet could be sworn in and Parliament convened.

The Conservatives weren't as concerned about having Parliament up and running last fall when Harper had the body suspended in order to avoid a non-confidence vote - even as the country plunged into recession.

According to the Harris-Decima survey, the Liberals held a six-point lead in the crucial electoral battleground of Ontario, with 40 per cent support to the Conservatives' 34 per cent. The NDP was at 13 per cent and the Greens at 10.

In Quebec, the Bloc remained in front with 37 per cent, while the Liberals dipped to 28 per cent. The Tories were way back at 12 per cent, with the NDP at 11 and the Greens at 10.

The Tories retained their iron grip on the Prairies, with 62 per cent support in Alberta and 44 per cent in Manitoba-Saskatchewan.

A month-long surge in support for the Greens in British Columbia turned that province into a four-way race, with the Tories at 28 per cent, the NDP at 26 per cent, the Greens at 24 and the Liberals at 20.

In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals led with 38 per cent, followed by the NDP at 32 per cent, the Tories at 23 and the Greens at five.

The survey of just over 2,000 respondents was conducted Aug. 13-23. A sample that size is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points 19 times in 20. The margin of error is larger for regional sub-samples.

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