Voters are less likely to back the government's core economic policies when they are told they come from George Osborne, a poll revealed as the Tory party chairman, Grant Shapps, rounded on the business secretary, Vince Cable, for mixing up his duties as a politician with his desire to be a commentator.
The Ipsos/Mori survey came a week before the budget, and will raise further doubts among Tory backbenchers about whether the chancellor is a political liability.
Shapps, in an interview for the House magazine, criticised Cable as "sort of a commentator on the economy. If anybody wants to be a commentator, there are a lot of newspapers who'll hire you."
He said ministers were "here to lead the country through these difficult, choppy waters and, actually, through the coalition, in truth, to better times ahead.
"We've come together in the national interest, and we should be leaders in that, not commentating on every aspect and twist and turn."
Half of those surveyed in the poll agreed when given a summary of the coalition's argument that deficit reduction should be the priority, without any mention of Osborne's name. They were also given a summary of Labour's arguments for higher spending on growth measures.
When Osborne and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, were not mentioned, voters backed the austerity policies by 52% to 41%. But when Osborne and Balls were identified as authors of the relative strategies, support fell to 37% for the coalition's policy and rose to 53% for Labour's approach.
The scale of the difference will be deeply troubling to Tory high command and will probably mean that Osborne will remain even more a background figure at the general election. His intermittent media appearances have led to him being described as "the submarine".
Overall the poll showed the Conservatives down to 27%, their lowest poll rating since January 2003. Labour is now only one point behind the Conservatives in terms of economic credibility, although the Labour government is still blamed more than the coalition government for the state of the economy. Only one in four think Labour would do a better job running the economy.
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