The recent slump in the Lib Dems’s poll ratings indicates a situation that is typical in many a coalition situation. Those who support the coalition naturally gravitate towards the larger partner, and those against vote for the opposition, thus leaving the relatively nuanced junior coalition party squeezed, despite its achievements at modeating the behaviour of the main party. What is even more worrying for the Lib Dems is the fact that in most coalition systems PR exists, allowing those parties to at least deliver for their key constituencies, thus shoring up their base vote. Unfortunately, this is hard to do under first past the post, and possibly even more difficult under the alternative vote.
Yet, the Lib Dems still have options. In both Ireland and Germany, small liberal parties managed to counter the challenge of “coalition suffocation” by appealing directly to the moderate voters of the main party, asking them to lend them their votes to ensure that the coalition remains moderate. It’s a tricky manouvere to pull off, especially as it means the Lib Dems effectively identifying their coalition choice before an election, but it can work. Ironically, a bust up, with defections to Labour, may actually help the Lib Dems convince moderate Tory voters to help keep the coalition in by voting Lib Dem 1, Tory 2 under an AV system. Stranger things have happened.