Voters have delivered an ominous warning to the Liberal Democrats, with nearly two-thirds saying they are not clear what the party stands for since it went into coalition with the Conservatives.
A ComRes poll for The Independent found that public opinion is divided on the merits of the power-sharing deal between David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but that voters overwhelmingly back the replacement of the first-past-the-post electoral system.
On the eve of today's first Prime Minister's Question Time appearance by Mr Cameron, the survey suggests that the Tories are regarded by the public as the coalition's dominant partner.
By a margin of more than two to one – 65 per cent to 29 per cent – they agreed that it was "difficult to know what the Liberal Democrats stand for" following their entry into the coalition. The sentiment was shared by 56 per cent of the people who voted Liberal Democrat in last month's general election.
There are signs that Mr Clegg's party is suffering a backlash from its decision to go into office with the Tories. Only 78 per cent of people who voted Liberal Democrat last month said they would vote the same way if another election was held tomorrow; 17 per cent said they would support Labour instead.
The findings echo fears among some activists that their party's identity is in danger of being swamped by the Tories. They come as Mr Clegg insists in an interview in The Independent today that Liberal Democrat values are at the heart of the coalition agreement.
Three weeks after the deal was struck, public opinion is split over the merits of forming the coalition administration. Asked whether it was a better outcome for Britain than an outright Tory or Labour election victory, 45 per cent agreed and 43 per cent disagreed.
There was overwhelming support for the suggestion that first-past-the-post voting for Westminster should be replaced by a "system that reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party", with 78 per cent agreeing and just 18 per cent disagreeing.
Voters of all political persuasions backed the change, with 88 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters, 83 per cent of Labour voters and 71 per cent of Tory votes agreeing. Nearly three-quarters of voters (72 per cent) agreed, however, that the "horse-trading" that followed the inconclusive election result showed that an outright win is much more desirable than a hung parliament. Twenty-four per cent disagreed.
The political upheavals of the last month have had little impact on voting intentions, according to ComRes. It puts the Conservatives on 37 per cent, down one point since the last ComRes survey for The Independent on Sunday on 16 May. Labour is on 33 per cent (down one) and the Lib Dems on 21 per cent (unchanged).
The Tories' lead of four points over Labour compares with its seven-point lead on election night. The fragility of its support is underlined by the ComRes finding that the Tories are now in third place in the South-west and Wales. The poll also found that Labour is ahead of the Conservatives among social groups C1 and C2, as well as among 18- to 24-year-olds and 35- to 54-year-olds.
ComRes telephoned 1,000 British adults between 28 and 31 May, 2010. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk
The results in brief
The first-past-the-post system for elections to the House of Commons should be replaced by a system that reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party
Agree 78%/Disagree 18%
Britain is better off with a coalition government than it would have been if either the Conservatives or Labour had won the election outright
Agree 45%/Disagree 43%
Now that they have joined a coalition with the Conservatives, it is difficult to know what the Liberal Democrats stand for
Agree 65%/Disagree 29%
The political horse-trading which followed the inconclusive general election result showed that an outright win is much more desirable than a hung parliament
Agree 72%/Disagree 24%Reuse content