Nearly half of Liberal Democrat voters are ready to abandon the party over its backing for a hike in tuition fees, according to a poll.
Leader Nick Clegg’s personal ratings have also collapsed since he decided to renege on his general election pledge to oppose any increase.
The scale of the damage sustained by the Lib Dems from the issue was evident in research by Ipsos MORI for the News of the World.
Some 29% of those who previously voted for the party said they were much less likely to do so in future as a result of the u-turn, while 17% said they were somewhat less likely.
In April two-thirds of the public rated Mr Clegg as trustworthy, leading to him being hailed as the most loved politician since Winston Churchill.
But now, after making compromises to join the coalition and become Deputy Prime Minister, his standings have been turned on their head. Just a quarter of those questioned believed he could be trusted, compared to 61% who thought the opposite.
By contrast, the Tories have fared far better, with just a tenth of their voters saying they would be less likely to support the party in future. Some 41% find Prime Minister David Cameron trustworthy – only two points lower than before the election.
The poll also found widespread concern about the rise in tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000. Nearly two thirds of respondents opposed higher charges, with just 28% in favour.
Three out of four people thought it would make teenagers from deprived backgrounds less likely to go to university, and 46% of parents admitted the higher charges would put them off sending their children to university.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 809 adults from across Great Britain by telephone on December 9-10 2010. Data were weighted to match the profile of the population.