the sun newspaper failed to publish a YouGov poll showing that voters fear a Liberal Democrat government less than a Conservative or Labour one.
The Liberal Democrats accused the newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, of suppressing the finding. The paper, which endorsed Labour in the past three elections, declared its support for David Cameron during the Labour Party's annual conference last October. Like other Tory-supporting papers, it has turned its fire on Nick Clegg over his policies, pro-European statements and expenses claims since he won last week's first televised leaders' debate.
YouGov also found that if people thought Mr Clegg's party had a significant chance of winning the election, it would win 49 per cent of the votes, with the Tories winning 25 per cent and Labour just 19 per cent. One in four people intending to vote Labour and one in six Tory supporters say they would switch to the Liberal Democrats in these circumstances. The party would be ahead among both men and women, in every age and social group, and in every region. On a uniform swing across Britain, that would give the Liberal Democrats 548 MPs, Labour 41 and the Tories 25.
The Liberal Democrats hope the long-standing argument that supporting them would be a "wasted vote" is breaking down following the surge in support for them in the past week. However, even the most optimistic Liberal Democrats do not expect to win the election.
The party has taken comfort from YouGov's unpublished finding that more voters would be delighted by the formation of a Liberal Democrat government (29 per cent), than by a Tory government (25 per cent) or a Labour one (18 per cent).
Only 21 per cent would be dismayed if a Liberal Democrat administration were formed, compared to 45 per cent for the Tories and 51 per cent for Labour. A Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, which would delight 14 per cent of people, would be a more popular outcome than a Conservative-Liberal Democrat one (9 per cent).
The Liberal Democrats are angry that The Sun did not publish these figures. Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, the party's Treasury spokesman, said: "The numbers show that half the country cannot stand Gordon Brown and that the other half can't stand David Cameron. I wonder why The Sun wouldn't share this news with its readers. We always knew, as polls over many years have shown, that when people believe the Liberal Democrats can win, there is a big jump in our support. In 90 minutes in the first debate, Nick Clegg tore open the two-party straitjacket which has stifled British politics for the last 80 years. Now, at last, people can vote for what they want, not against what they fear."
The Sun declined to comment last night. On the day the poll's findings were published on Tuesday, it focused on the Tories moving into the lead in the share of the vote and said there were signs that the Liberal Democrats' surprise surge was on the wane. An editorial comment said: "Mr Clegg is the political equivalent of a holiday romance. An exciting fortnight's flirtation so long as you don't ask too many questions. We cannot gamble the nation's future like that."
However, Sun journalists said YouGov's extensive daily poll always contained too many findings to publish. On Monday, the paper ran a front-page story saying the Liberal Democrats had taken the lead, based on the previous day's survey.
Peter Kellner, the YouGov president, said in a commentary on the unpublished poll that it was no longer outlandish to ask whether Mr Clegg could end up as prime minister. "The answer is probably no – I'd put the odds at 10-1 against – but longer-odds horses have won big races in the past," he said.
Mr Kellner added: "Not only is a Lib Dem government the most popular option; it is the one that frightens voters far less than any other option. If the Lib Dem bandwagon is to be halted and sent into reverse, Labour and the Tories must do far more to persuade voters that a vote for the Lib Dems would be seriously bad for Britain."
Another poll published yesterday suggested that the Liberal Democrats' advance has proved more damaging to the Tories than to Labour.
According to the Ipsos MORI poll for Reuters, the Tories have achieved a 5 per cent swing from Labour since the last general election, in 2005, in Labour-held marginal constituencies. That suggests Britain is still heading for a hung parliament, with the Tories as the largest party.
The poll, conducted between 16 and 19 April, showed support for Labour fell to 36 percent compared with 41 per cent two weeks ago, while Tory support dropped to 32 percent from 38 per cent. Liberal Democrat support jumped to 23 per cent from 11 per cent.
The swing to the third party comes mainly from voters who were previously not sure they would vote.
On the eve of last night's TV debate, Mr Clegg faced an unprecedented media onslaught as newspapers raised questions over donations to his private bank account, his past job as a lobbyist and an article he wrote eight years ago criticising British hostility to Germany.
The attacks diverted Mr Clegg as he attempted to build on his victory in the first TV debate. His office was forced to rush out a detailed rebuttal of a Daily Telegraph report that three supporters had paid money directly into his personal bank account between January 2006 and January 2008.
His office released bank statements which it said showed all the cash was used to pay for a researcher. According to its figures, he received £19,690 from the donors over the period, while paying out £20,437.30 in staffing costs. Mr Clegg said in the TV debate: "It's a complete nonsense story – complete rubbish."Reuse content