Opinion is split on the potential for a coalition government, with a slight plurality indicating they’d support
the idea of one. 45% of respondents said they’d support two of the parties coming together to form a coalition
government that would hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons after the next election, while 42%
would oppose such an initiative.
The above represents pretty much the best numbers we've seen for the coalition question, so at first blush an encouraging sign. However, despite the growing acceptance of the concept, I think once you drill down into the numbers, you find the idea is still politically toxic.
First off, don't make the assumption that the perceived acceptance excludes a Liberal/Conservative dynamic. It's conventional wisdom at this point to think any support is for the concept floated last winter, which this poll doesn't attempt to distinguish. People want the parties to work together, and it's reasonable to think at least a small percentage of "support" entertains an alliance between the two principle parties, not a arrangement with the fringe. That is a minor issue however.
Where I would offer caution, you can't take the overall percentages and extrapolate political worth. This poll shows that Conservatives are more soundly against the idea of a coalition, while Liberal, NDP and Bloc supporters are less resolved in their support. What that means politically, the Conservatives can run against the idea of any coalition and not really risk their base support. On top of that, because a greater percentage of other party supports express a hesitancy with the idea of a coalition, the Conservatives can "peel" off those supporters to their camp, if they make the idea a central wedge issue. You can see the party splits here. Some quite math, when you add up all those against the coalition from the other parties and subtract those Conservatives who would support, you are left with a decided advantage in being the one party who actively runs AGAINST a coalition. There is no risk politically for the Conservatives, but there is plenty of opportunity. This means that overall percentages are deceiving, because one party can rally the anti vote, whereas the other parties split the pro sentiment, and within in there core support is less committed, more vulnerable.
The poll finds 40% support, 46% oppose in Ontario, which is a very concerning number for the Liberals. People will remember, that Ontario numbers for the Conservatives hit unprecedented heights when the coalition was the frontburner. Nothing in the above numbers suggests anything different, if the Conservatives successfully make the coalition an issue, they can hold their vote and expand, drawing away weary other party potentials. It's still a no lose proposition. The fact the Conservatives mention "coalition" whenever they can, and the fact it will be a campaign theme, tells me all I need to know about their calculations.
As I pointed out in CC's comments, I guess the comforting fact of this poll- should we see another minority after the next election, a coalition might find more acceptance. However, the trick for the Liberals, they can't entertain the notion until after any vote, because to do so would clearly hurt their chances.
This poll also shows that Canadians would prefer a Liberal majority, and if voters of other parties were forced to choose between the two principles, the Liberals would carry the day. A more shrewd strategy would be to try and rally soft support to the Liberal cause, in the name of turfing the Conservatives. This is certain to be part of the theme in Quebec, and the Liberals can exploit disenchantment with the government, by narrowing the choice to two parties. Nothing new really, and nothing the other parties haven't calculated- Layton's quest to be "Prime Minister" last election a testament to the strategy of remaining relevant, not wanting to get lost in the anti-Con sentiment.
Conclusion, the coalition idea is probably more popular, as we get used to the concept. That said, any talk of a coalition is still a Conservative wet dream and something to avoided at all costs by the Liberals.