There is a reason why Conservative Leader Stephen Harper constantly warns of the dangers of a "reckless coalition" becoming the next government: he knows the idea is unpopular with Canadians, as a new poll confirms.
Forty-nine per cent of those interviewed by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV had a negative or somewhat negative reaction when asked what they thought of "the idea of a coalition government." Forty per cent viewed the idea positively or somewhat positively, while 12 per cent weren't sure.
Even some of those who plan to vote for other than the Conservatives reject the idea of a coalition. Eighteen per cent of Liberal supporters and 19 per cent of NDP supporters said they were definitely opposed.
"Even among Liberals, one out of five has a negative impression of a coalition," pollster Nik Nanos observed. "Those are the people Mr. Harper's going after."
Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe have all affirmed that they would not be part of a coalition government, in the event the Conservatives once again take the most seats without obtaining an outright majority.
However, Mr. Harper insists that such a coalition would exist in all but name, because he believes the opposition would certainly combine to defeat a minority Conservative government as soon as it met the House, leading Governor-General David Johnston to ask Mr. Ignatieff to form a government, which the NDP and Bloc would support day-to-day.
Mr. Harper continued to sound the coalition alarm Wednesday at a campaign stop in Markham.
"If we win this election, they've already decided they'll vote against our next budget," he warned, referring to Liberal, NDP and Bloc vows to vote against the budget introduced in March if the Conservatives bring it back after the next election. "So on it goes. Another attempt at a coalition and another election."
Conservative strategists speaking on background maintain Mr. Harper will continue his mantra of warning against a possible coalition throughout the campaign.
Since the election began, the Nanos tracking poll has shown the Conservatives with a stable and healthy, but not insurmountable, lead over the Liberals, enjoying the support of four-in-ten Canadians, putting them on the cusp of forming a majority government.
The Liberals are hovering around 30-per-cent support, with the NDP tracking steadily in mid-to-upper teens.
The Nanos Leadership Index score, which tracks voter attitudes towards the leaders' trustworthiness, competence and vision, is far more encouraging for the Conservatives. Mr. Harper is steadily scoring at about 100 or higher, with Mr. Ignatieff in third place with scores of around 40 or below, behind Mr. Layton.
Mr. Nanos attributes Mr. Ignatieff's poor showing on this front to the wave of Conservative attack ads that preceded the election.
At this point, "the only way for Michael Ignatieff's brand to move up is for Stephen Harper's to be torn down," he said.