The Conservatives have solidified a substantial lead among Canadian voters, thanks at least in part to a lack of confidence in Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, according to an opinion poll released on Sunday.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll, conducted Sept. 10 to 13, gave the Conservatives 40 per cent support across Canada, followed by the Liberals at 26 per cent.

 "If a federal election were being held tomorrow, who would you be voting for?"
 Conservatives 40%
 Liberals  26%
 NDP 15%
 Green party  9%
 Bloc Québécois  8%
  1,393 Canadian adults interviewed Sept 10-13

The NDP had the support of 15 per cent of respondents, followed by the Green party at nine per cent and the Bloc Québécois at eight per cent.

Respondents to the poll were asked the following question: "If a federal election were being held tomorrow, who do you think you'd be voting for in your area?"

Dion was the only major party leader to register a negative impression with Canadians. Fifty-five per cent of respondents to the poll had an unfavourable opinion of the Liberal leader, compared with 34 per cent who reported a favourable opinion of Dion.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper drew a favourable response from 52 per cent of those polled, versus 40 per cent who were unfavourable.

On both cases, the remainder were undecided or had no opinion.

"The challenge for the Liberals appears to rest squarely on Mr. Dion," Harris-Decima president Bruce Anderson said in a release.

'The challenge for the Liberals appears to rest squarely on Mr. Dion' —Bruce Anderson, Harris-Decima

"The Liberals must find a way to improve his appeal or make clear that they offer an appealing team of capable and experienced people. But there is no doubt that, as of now, Mr. Dion's image is the single biggest obstacle the Liberals face."

Layton, Greens score well

The NDP's Jack Layton remained the most popular of the five leaders, with 53 per cent of respondents registering a positive impression and just 33 per cent a negative one.

Green Leader Elizabeth May, who has enjoyed unprecedented exposure thanks to the controversy over her participation in next month's televised leaders' debates, won favour with 40 per cent of respondents, compared with 25 per cent who said they had a negative opinion of her.

"The main risk for the Green party coming into this campaign was that the Liberals would try to polarize the election around the choice of Conservative or Liberal environmental policy, and Green support would dissipate," Anderson said.

"This isn't happening and Ms. May's personal reputation has also been growing as she has become more visible."

Forty-nine per cent of those surveyed said they had a positive opinion of Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, compared with 40 per cent who disagreed.

Women, urbanites leaning Conservative

The poll also shows the Conservatives hanging on to a lead over the other parties among women and city-dwellers, two groups of voters that used to be more reliably Liberal.

About 37 per cent of women said they favoured the Conservatives, compared with 29 per cent for the Liberals, 16 per cent for the NDP and eight per cent for both the Bloc Quebecois and the Green party.

The figures were about the same for people of all genders who live in urban areas.

The results of the latest survey are broadly in line with several recent polls that have put the Conservatives within reach of winning a majority government.

The results are based on 1,393 interviews with Canadians of voting age and are considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The smaller sample size for women and city dwellers increases the margin of error in those two groups by about one percentage point.

Harris Decima researchers are polling around 300 Canadians every night of the federal election campaign and pooling their results at regular intervals to track possible changes in Canadians' attitudes and loyalties.

With files from the Canadian Press