The battle to become the first West Midlands mayor is a dead heat between the Conservative and Labour candidates and will be settled on second preference votes, an exclusive survey for the Birmingham Mail has revealed.
Tory Andy Street and Labour's Siôn Simon each look set to get 33 per cent of the first preference votes, according to the survey of almost 2,500 Trinity Mirror readers in the West Midlands.
It means that, with two weeks to go until the May 4 polling day and a general election campaign now under way, it is all to play for.
Under the supplementary vote system, if no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, the two with the most stay in the race while all other candidates are eliminated.
The second preference votes for eliminated candidates are redistributed to the top two and a winner declared.
The shift of UKIP, Lib Dem, Green and Communist voters to the two leaders will be crucial in deciding the election.
In the second round, our survey found that Mr Simon would edge ahead at this point, picking up 53 per cent of the votes cast against Mr Street's 47 per cent.
It would make him the West Midlands' first ever metro mayor with responsibility for transport, housing and economic growth with a £36 million-a-year budget and the power to guide investment worth £8 billion.
However, with Labour trailing the Tories in national polls and the country in the midst of a general election campaign, the mayoral battle is essentially too close to call.
And, given an expected low turnout of around 20 per cent, it means there will be no wasted votes - each and every one will be keenly fought for and could make the difference.
Our survey used Google technology to randomly invite visitors to Trinity Mirror websites in the region to complete a simple voting intentions questionnaire - there was no opportunity for party activists to game the system.
Unlike an official poll, it was not balanced to accurately reflect the profile.
It took into account previous voting patterns in the 2015 general election and last year's Euro referendum and also recorded which local authority area each respondent came from.
The results were then weighted to reflect the actual populations of each area.
Respondents were invited randomly and it was impossible for any party to organise a 'mass response' to the survey to manipulate the results.
The raw data has been made available to the candidates' campaign teams.
The survey also shows that, while Tory Mr Street trails Labour in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, he has almost 50 per cent of the vote in Solihull and almost 40 per cent in Dudley.
However, the sheer size of Birmingham - it accounts for almost 40 per cent of the West Midlands county's total population - means this is where the election will be won and lost.
It also suggests the battle for second preference votes will see an unlikely alliance of Lib Dem and UKIP voters backing Mr Street with Mr Simon's second round support coming from Greens and Communists.
And despite UKIP's current disarray following a spate of leadership crises and defections, its candidate Pete Durnell is on course to come in third, with 15.7 per cent of the first round votes, more than double that of the Lib Dems' Beverley Nielsen, on 7.4 per cent.
The Greens and Communists trail with 6.7 per cent and 5.1 per cent respectively.
Worryingly for the candidates, of the 2,437 people surveyed, 43 per cent said they didn't even intend to vote.
Given it is a new role and new election, a low turnout of around 20 per cent is widely anticipated.
Of even more concern for the mayoral hopefuls is that voters do not seem to be engaged with the issues the mayor's role is there to tackle.
When asked about key issues, only nine per cent cited transport as something they were interested in, despite it being one of the few areas where the new mayor will have clear authority.
Voters were most concerned about the NHS, followed by education and immigration, despite the mayor's office having little to do with any of these areas.
Skills and council cuts were key concerns for just 14 per cent and 13 per cent of respondents.