Many Tory voters 'favour Ukip deal'
Nearly a third (30%) of Conservative voters would prefer their party to form a coalition with Ukip if it fails to win next year's general election outright, according to a new survey.
The figure is only a fraction below the 31% who would favour a continuation of the current partnership with Liberal Democrats in the event of a hung parliament in 2015.
But the Tory enthusiasm for a link-up with Nigel Farage's eurosceptic party was not matched by Ukip voters, some 39% of whom said that any MPs they secure next May should remain aloof and refuse to join any coalition at Westminster - compared to 24% who said they should enter government with the Conservatives, 13% with Labour and 8% with Lib Dems.
The survey by pollsters TNS UK found that Liberal Democrats were the favoured party of coalition for supporters of both Conservatives (31%) and Labour (32%) if either party does not win an outright majority. Liberal Democrat voters preferred a coalition with Tories rather than Labour by a margin of 36% to 26%, with 13% saying that the party should go into opposition rather than joining another coalition.
Among Labour voters, some 27% said they preferred opposition to coalition, while the figure for Conservatives was lower at 16%. More than a quarter of Labour supporters (29%) said they did not know what Ed Miliband should do if he finds himself in coalition negotiations after the election.
The poll gave Labour a seven-point lead on 36%, to the Tories' 29%, with Ukip on 19% and Lib Dems trailing on 7%.
But despite their advantage over Nick Clegg's party, Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system is likely to deny Mr Farage's party more than a handful of MPs, and TNS chief executive Michelle Harrison said it was questionable whether a Tory-Ukip coalition could be considered a "viable" option.
"Successive polls have indicated the possibility of no party winning an overall majority at the next election. In such an eventuality, this research suggests both Conservative and Labour supporters favour coalition with the Liberal Democrats," said Dr Harrison.
"While it is perhaps no surprise that a sizeable number of Conservative supporters favour a coalition with Ukip, the probability of that being a viable option at the next election is open to question."
Worryingly for Mr Clegg, the poll suggested that Lib Dem support was much softer than that for the other parties. Of those saying they would vote Lib Dem in 2015, almost half (47%) said they might change their minds over the coming nine months, compared to 34% of Ukip backers, 24% of those supporting the Tories and 22% of Labour voters.
The poll also suggested that David Cameron's offer to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU may not sway many voters. It was placed tenth out of a list of 10 possible policy priorities, with just 5% of those questioned naming it as their top priority against 28% who said it was their lowest. Topping the list were reducing unemployment - where Tories were rated the party most likely to deliver - and investing more in health care - where Labour were most trusted.
Some 34% of those questioned said that the economy had improved over the last 12 months, against 14% who said it had got worse. But looking ahead, just 29% expected it to get better over the coming year, while 59% said it would stay the same and 11% that it would decline.
In an apparent buttress for Labour's argument that most voters are not yet feeling the benefit of GDP growth, some 26% said it was harder to meet monthly household budgets now than a year ago, compared to just 11% who said it had become easier.
:: TNS Omnibus interviewed 1,191 adults in Great Britain between July 15 and 17.