Boris Johnson may be the favourite to win over the Tory membership but a poll suggests leadership rival Jeremy Hunt would be the public’s preferred prime minister.
Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt is the favoured successor to Theresa May among the public at large, by 41% to 29% for Mr Johnson, according to the YouGov poll published on Friday.
But the research puts Mr Johnson ahead by 48% to 39% among Conservative voters, and it is the Tory party membership who will decide the victor.
The research suggests momentum is going in Mr Hunt’s favour. He is up to 28% of the public believing he would be a good PM, compared with 43% thinking he would be bad.
Mr Johnson is at 25% and 58% respectively, with the research suggesting he is going backwards with the public.
The research put Mr Johnson ahead on handling Brexit, but behind on honesty and good moral character.
The poll, which questioned 1,686 adults on Wednesday and Thursday, was published as the rivals face the membership in a series of hustings across the country.
YouGov director of political and social research Anthony Wells wrote: “If the Conservatives are looking towards Boris Johnson as a magic election winner, the evidence is simply no longer there.
“A decade ago he had a reputation as the Tory who could reach voters other Tories could not, and significantly outperformed his party in the 2012 mayoral election.
“However, our latest polling does not suggest he offers any innate electoral advantage over Jeremy Hunt.”
Mr Hunt’s campaign welcomed the poll.
“Jeremy remains the underdog but this shows we’ve got the momentum,” one source said. “He’s clearly the candidate best trusted to beat (Labour leader Jeremy) Corbyn.”