Nick Clegg's position as Liberal Democrat leader is starting to look "precarious", David Cameron has admitted, after a poll found nearly half of his members want him out before the next general election.
Around 500 Lib Dems participated in research by the website LibDemVoice, which found 46% of members did not want the deputy prime minister to lead his party into the 2015 campaign.
Although 47% of respondents said they wanted Clegg to continue as both deputy prime minister and party leader into the next general election, 23% said they wanted him out of the party job at some stage before 2015. A further nine per cent backed scrapping him as deputy PM at the same time.
Only 14% believed Clegg should give up one or both his jobs before the end of 2012. As blogger Stephen Tall observed: "These are findings which will make deeply uncomfortable reading for Nick Clegg."
The deputy prime minister's aides have dismissed the survey as unrepresentative, but LibDemVoice has pointed out its polls have provided an accurate picture of the party's opinions in the past.
The Lib Dem grassroots has always been viewed as the most likely section of the coalition to cause its downfall. Now Cameron, who owes his position as prime minister to support from the junior party, has reportedly told Cabinet colleagues he believes Clegg's position is "very precarious".
Conference delegates will meet in Brighton after a summer of growing frustration with the coalition, which is struggling to cope with the double-dip recession and is coming under increasing pressure from frustrated businesses.
Tensions reached a new high before the summer recess when Tory backbench opposition forced the abandonment of the Lib Dems' Lords reform plans. That gave business secretary Vince Cable the opportunity to position himself as a potential successor to Clegg for the 2015 general election.
Brighton jitters in September will be fuelled by the Liberal Democrats' poor performance in broader opinion polls. While Westminster's third largest party are no strangers to suffering a polling dip between elections, their current performance will give many cause for concern.
If the ten per cent vote share currently being registered by most pollsters is reflected in the 2015 general election the party could only be left with ten MPs, YouGov's president Peter Kellner has warned.
"Nick has repeatedly made clear that he intends to lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election and beyond," a source close to the Lib Dem leader said.
"Nick has never flinched when things have been difficult and he's not going to start now. He sees things through and doesn't bail out when the going gets tough."
Clegg has become closely associated with the Conservative party in the minds of many voters, who believe his personal political views effectively make him a 'closet Tory'.
Alternative leadership candidates like party president Tim Farron and Cable have retained a distinctive left-wing tone - while explaining the necessity of working with the Conservatives in the current parliament.