Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair is leading the NDP leadership race, according to a poll released Monday by Paul Dewar's team.
The survey put the Ottawa MP in third place, behind Toronto MP Peggy Nash – but it also put him at the top of the board when it comes to second choices. The matter is key in the preferential ballots that will be offered to all NDP members on March 24.
The poll of 6,373 New Democrats across Canada was conducted with interactive voice response phone calls to 56,522 members.
While Mr. Dewar's team argues the survey has a margin of error of 1.19-percent, it is already stirring up much debate within the NDP – especially as long-time party strategist Brian Topp is in 5th place, behind B.C. MP Nathan Cullen.
The poll was conducted on Feb. 8 and 9, ahead of Sunday's debate in Quebec City in which Mr. Dewar had a hard time in his second language.
"They show that nobody will win on the first ballot, that second ballot support is essential in a one-member-one vote system, that the race has narrowed to a three-way contest, and that Paul Dewar is very well positioned to win," Dewar campaign manager Dan Mackenzie said.
Mr. Mulcair had the first-choice support of 25.5 per cent of decided voters in the survey, compared to 16.8 per cent for Ms. Nash and 15.1 per cent for Mr. Dewar. Mr. Cullen and Mr. Topp polled at 12.8 and 12.7 per cent respectively, with Manitoba MP Niki Ashton at 9.5 per cent, Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh at 4.1 per cent support and former Cree leader Romeo Saganash, who has withdrawn from the race, trailing at 3.6 per cent.
On second choice among decided voters, Mr. Dewar had 21.2 per cent support, Ms. Nash had 19.4 per cent and 16.7 per cent backed Mr. Muclair. Mr. Cullen again led Mr. Topp by a margin of 14.4 per cent to the backroom strategist's 12.4 per cent. Ms. Ashton had 10.7 per cent support, with Mr. Saganash at 3.6 per cent and Mr. Singh at 1.8 per cent.
Mr. Topp's team was quick to question the results. "We know from our own polling and canvassing that the findings don't reflect what's happening on the ground," campaign manager Raymond Guardia said in an email to his staff that was circulated to reporters.
"In the past two weeks, our campaign has conducted live telephone interviews (not 'robocalls') with 7,500 confirmed voting members and 28% intend to vote for Brian Topp in the upcoming leadership race."
Separately, the Topp campaign scored an emotional boost with an endorsement from Jack Layton's mother.
Doris Layton threw her support behind Mr. Topp, saying she feels secure that under his leadership "the NDP will definitely follow Jack's path – a path that will lead the NDP to form government in 2015."
"I support Brian Topp because he is very much on Jack's wave length," Mrs. Layton said in a statement released Monday. "Jack and Brian worked closely together through the years. They can almost finish each other sentences."
Mr. Topp said he was honoured. "Doris and her husband Bob raised one of our party's greatest leaders. And they both have made a huge contribution to this country."
The new leader of the NDP will be selected on March 24 in Toronto.