It may prove one of the longest and most boring campaigns ever, but at least it will be a genuine three-party contest - or so we are assured.
"Real three-party politics," Charles Kennedy promised, as he contrived to launch the Lib Dems' "pre-manifesto" on the same day as the Tories revealed their £35 billion worth of public-spending cuts. But then he would do, wouldn't he?
It's Labour's line too, though. Their election co-ordinator, Alan Milburn, reckons that if 500,000 traditional Labour supporters in the right - or, from his viewpoint, wrong - marginal seats vote Lib Dem because of Iraq or whatever, Michael Howard could end up as Prime Minister.
You can understand their respectively-professed optimism and anxiety. All opinion polls agree that both the Government and Tony Blair personally are significantly less popular than they were four years ago, a few months before the 2001 election.
In January 2001, the Government's net satisfaction rating was -13 per cent; today around -35 per cent. Equivalent figures for the PM are +3 per cent in 2001 and -28 per cent today.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, who almost always gain a few percentage points during a campaign through their increased media exposure, are already on 21 per cent, which is two points ahead of their 2001 election tally and eight higher than their position in January 2001.
Is it possible, then, that we may have a much closer contest than most of us are expecting?
Possible, of course, but extremely unlikely - for the reason of which the three main parties, in their differing ways, are all acutely aware: namely, our exceptionally-biased electoral system. The Lib Dems know it, because they and their Liberal predecessors have been its most consistent victims.
The Conservatives know it, because they benefited from it in the 1980s and - to judge from their dogmatic opposition to reform - apparently hope to again in the future.
And, however much Labour leaders try to scare their wavering supporters out of any complacency, they know it too, because they are currently the biggest beneficiaries of the biggest electoral bias in our history.
One way of understanding the extent of this bias is to contrast our parliamentary electoral system - a plurality or 'first-pastthe- post' system in singlemember constituencies - with the proportional system of regional party lists used in last year's European Parliamentary elections.
Our votes, last June, resulted in the UK's 78 Euro seats being divided, roughly proportionately, among no fewer than 10 political parties. None came near getting a majority (40) of the seats, because no party received more than about a quarter of our votes.
Labour won 22 per cent of the vote and has 19 (or 24 per cent) of our MEPs. The Lib Dems got 14.4 per cent of the vote and 15.4 per cent (12) MEPs. The UK Independence Party too gained 12 MEPs from 15.6 per cent of the vote. You can't get much more proportional than that.
Few systems, though, are perfectly proportional, and in those Euro-elections, the Conservatives were the main winners, their 26 per cent of the vote netting them 27 (nearly 35 per cent) of parliamentary seats.
This 'winner's bonus', however, is minimal by comparison with that in our recent general elections, as can be seen in the top 'scenario' in our table.
In 2001, Labour's 412 MPs -
62.5 per cent of the total of 659 - were elected by less than 41 per cent of our votes. The Conservatives' 31.7 per cent of the vote won them just 166 MPs (25 per cent), and the Lib Dems' 18.3 per cent produced 52 MPs, a post-war record, but only 9.4 per cent of the total House.
Put another way, it took over 93,000 votes to elect each Lib Dem MP, 50,000 to elect each Conservative, but only 26,000 to elect each Labour member.
Whatever one's views about the uses to which Labour has put its massive 165 overall majority over the past four years, it is difficult to argue that such gross disproportionately or bias is democratically healthy.
But, since nothing at all fundamental about the system has changed since 2001, there is every prospect of it being repeated this time around - quite conceivably in an even more exaggerated form.
There are, in fact, several distinguishable biases in our electoral geography at present, and, unlike in the past, all tend to operate in the same direction: in favour of Labour and against, especially, the Lib Dems, with their lower overall support spread fairly evenly across the whole country.
Labour's votes, by contrast, are concentrated in constituencies with the smallest electorates. They have 85 per cent and 76 per cent of the seats in Wales and Scotland, both of whose electorates are still over-represented at Westminster six years after the arrival of the Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament.
They also have 92 per cent of the seats in our seven main conurbations - seats with not only the lowest and most rapidly-declining electorates, but also, generally, considerably lower turnouts than more suburban or rural Conservative seats.
A further factor in both 1997 and 2001 was the readiness of many Lib Dem supporters to vote tactically in marginal Labour seats, specifically to keep Conservative candidates out.
Add these various biases together and you had, on 2001 figures, a Labour advantage over the Conservatives of an almost incredible 142 seats. If in that election, the two main parties had won exactly the same proportion of the vote - say 36 per cent - the Conservatives would have around 220 MPs and Labour more than 360, and an overall parliamentary majority of more than 60.
The implications of this systemic bias and the scale of the electoral mountain facing Labour's challengers can be seen in the other scenarios in our table, projected by experts from Plymouth University's Elections Centre.
Suppose, for example, that the Lib Dems do even better than in recent local elections and poll 25 per cent, taking votes from both other parties.
They might well knock out some high-profile Conservatives - like Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, and David Davis, shadow Home Secretary - but they would be lucky to increase their total of MPs by more than 20.
Even if Charles Kennedy's party reached the almost unimaginable heights of 30 per cent, the Conservatives, from an identical vote, would probably still win nearly twice as many seats, and again Labour's projected majority of 69 would comfortably see them through a full Parliament.
Indeed, even if all three parties polled exactly the same percentage vote, Labour might well hold on to at least a small overall majority.
Finally, perhaps most bizarrely - and democratically questionable - of all, Labour could be comprehensively outpolled by the Lib Dems, yet finish with over 200 more seats.
Of course, Iraq, Blair's unpopularity, and general Labour disillusion may also change the nature of any tactical voting. Even so, whatever the polls or party leaders may say, it is ultimately the electoral system that will determine whether we get a threeparty contest.