What do the parties need to do to form a majority government?

With just 12 days left in the federal election campaign, the two leading political parties appear to be locked in a dead heat with neither of them poised to win a majority government, according to national polling data.

So how can the Liberals and Conservatives move the political needle in their favour and where do the other parties stand?

According to Nanos Research’s nightly tracking data conducted for CTV News and the Globe and Mail, which was released on Wednesday morning, the Conservatives have 32.6 per cent support among Canadians and are in statistical tie with the Liberals at 31.6 per cent.

The NDP is behind at 21.1. per cent support, followed by the BQ at 5 per cent, the Green Party at 4.4 per cent, and the PPC at 4.3 per cent.

Nik Nanos, founder and chief data scientist at Nanos Research, said the party leaders might have the opportunity to shift the momentum on their side at the two official debates this week.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul are expected to square off at the French debate on Wednesday and the English debate on Thursday in Gatineau, Que.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier will not be allowed to participate in the debates because he didn’t meet the criteria established by the independent leaders’ debate commission.

LIBERALS

For Trudeau, specifically, who called the election during the summer in the hopes his party could pick up more seats to form a majority government, Nanos said he expects the Liberal leader to focus on his closest rival O’Toole during the debate.

“I would expect that he's probably going to clearly have his sights set on Erin O'Toole, because Erin O’Toole’s brand has improved over the course of the campaign,” Nanos said on Wednesday’s edition of CTV’s Trend Line podcast.

Nanos said viewers might see Trudeau question O’Toole on his party’s changing stance on gun control after they amended their platform over the weekend to pledge they wouldn’t repeal a 2020 ban on certain firearms after initially stating they would.

Trudeau might also go after Blanchet during the debate, Nanos said, because Quebec is a critical battleground for the Liberals.

Pauline Beange, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said Trudeau’s Liberals will want to retain as many seats as they can in Quebec while taking some from the NDP and the Conservatives in the Toronto area and Ontario more broadly.

“He can't afford to lose any in the West, but the primary vote-rich areas are Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

Trudeau will have the most difficult task this election campaign, according to Beange, because he’s the incumbent.

“He has lost the trust of many Canadian voters who voted for him in 2015 as a fresh new face,” she said.

Beange pointed to Trudeau’s multiple ethics violations, including the Aga Khan affair and the SNC-Lavalin scandal, as examples.

“He has to try and rebuild trust, which is a great deal harder than building trust in the first place,” she said.

CONSERVATIVES

As for the Conservatives, Nanos said it’s important for O’Toole to present himself as prime ministerial during the debates. He said he thinks Trudeau and Blanchet will be O’Toole’s main targets on the debate stage.

“A lot of his pickup has actually been from disaffected Liberals. So I would expect him to go after Trudeau in the hope of getting more blue Liberals to swing over into the into the true blue call,” Nanos said.

“I would expect him also to go after Blanchet because there's crossover between some of those Bloc Quebecois supporters and Conservative supporters in Quebec.”

Beyond the debate, Beange said O’Toole needs to maintain a strong campaign on the local level.

“A strong local campaign has been shown in research to add up to 10 per cent in vote share in that riding,” she said. “He should concentrate on that.”

Beange added that the Conservatives should also be wary of losing right-wing supporters to the People’s Party of Canada.

NDP

Finally, Nanos said he expects Singh to go after Trudeau and O’Toole during the debates.

“He's going to target O’Toole to compare and contrast Singh's vision for Canada compared to O’Toole’s vision for Canada,” he said. “I expect him to take on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals for not moving fast enough, not delivering on their promises, not moving forward in a progressive sense.”

Beange said Singh will pick up more votes during the campaign if he can convince Canadians that he can manage the economy and the NDP has the “depth” to do it. She said the party should explain how they’re going to create wealth in Canada.

“It’s not enough to say this is how much this is going to cost, Canadians want to know how he's going to pay for those programs,” she said.

NANOS’ METHODOLOGY

A national random telephone survey (land- and cellular-line sample using live agents) of 1,200 Canadians is conducted by Nanos Research throughout the campaign over a three-day period. Each evening a new group of 400 eligible voters are interviewed. The daily tracking figures are based on a three-day rolling sample comprising 1,200 interviews. To update the tracking a new day of interviewing is added and the oldest day dropped. The margin of error for a survey of 1,200 respondents is ± 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The respondent sample is stratified geographically and by gender. The data may be weighted by age according to data from the 2016 Canadian Census administered by Statistics Canada. Percentages reported may not add up to 100 due to rounding.