David Cameron is on course to become Prime Minister but will not win an overall majority, according to the final poll before today's election for The Independent and ITV News.
The ComRes survey, completed last night, shows that the Conservatives have extended their lead from eight to nine points, while the Liberal Democrats have drawn level with Labour in a last-minute boost for Nick Clegg.
The three main party leaders made their final pitch for votes last night after the most dramatic and close election for decades was electrified by their television debates, which propelled the Liberal Democrats into a three-way contest.
According to ComRes, the Tories are on 37 per cent (unchanged), Labour on 28 per cent (down one point on the previous day's poll), the Liberal Democrats on 28 per cent (up two points) and other parties on 7 per cent (down one point).
If repeated when the nation votes today, these figures would result in a hung parliament in which the Tories would have 299 seats, Labour 233, the Liberal Democrats 87 and other parties 13. Although Mr Cameron would be 27 seats short of an overall majority, he would almost certainly claim victory in these circumstances.
But Gordon Brown might try to hang on to power by forming an alliance with the Liberal Democrats – a scenario that some senior Labour figures think possible if the Tories win less than 300 seats. But the ComRes survey suggests that Mr Brown would lack public support for such a move – especially if Labour comes third in the share of the vote.
Eight out of 10 people (81 per cent) believe the leader of the party which wins most votes should become Prime Minister, while only 15 per cent disagree. This view is shared by 88 per cent of Tory supporters, 81 per cent of Labour supporters and 79 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters.
In contrast, 51 per cent think the leader of the party which emerges with most seats should become Prime Minister, while 41 per cent disagree.
There is more bad news for Labour in the poll. A majority of people expect Mr Cameron to be installed in Downing Street and almost two in three people do not want to see Mr Brown as Prime Minister in the event of a hung parliament. More people (48 per cent) would prefer the Tory leader to take the nation's reins in a hung parliament than Mr Brown (33 per cent).
Yet there is remarkably little enthusiasm for any of the leaders. Asked who they would most like to become Prime Minister, 33 per cent say Mr Cameron, 23 per cent Mr Brown and 18 per cent Mr Clegg.
Tory supporters are the most enthusiastic about their party's leader, with 86 per cent saying they want to see him in Number 10, while fewer than three-quarters (73 per cent) say the same about Mr Brown. Only 61 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters want to see Mr Clegg become Prime Minister. A majority of people expects to see the Tory leader cross the Downing Street threshold. Some 56 per cent think Mr Cameron is most likely to become Prime Minister, while only 19 per cent say Mr Brown and 4 per cent Mr Clegg.
Worryingly for Mr Brown, the same percentage of Labour supporters believe Mr Cameron is most likely to be Prime Minister as think Mr Brown will be (39 per cent). Six out of 10 Liberal Democrat supporters think the Tory leader will move into Number 10.
According to ComRes, 70 per cent of people will vote today – up from 61 per cent last time. But many voters are still making up their minds: 2.1 million who are "absolutely certain" to vote are undecided. The Tories end the campaign ahead among men, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats lead among women. Labour has retained the support of only 63 per cent of those who backed it in 2005, while the Liberal Democrats have kept 80 per cent and the Tories 87 per cent.
In his final campaign rally in Bristol, Mr Cameron said: "A Conservative government can get our economy moving again, can tackle our social problems, can make politics accountable. We will take everyone with us. To the old, the frail, the vulnerable: we will always look after you."
As Labour insisted the contest was still too close to call, Mr Brown said: "I am on the side of not just some but all hard-working families... I also have the judgement and the values to make the big decisions that matter." Mr Clegg told voters: "If you give us a chance, if you trust us with your vote, I in return promise to do everything I can to deliver the fairer, better Britain we all want and to change things for good."
ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1,025 adults