Foreign secretary Liz Truss holds a commanding 22-point lead over British-Indian ex-minister Rishi Sunak in the race to become the next Tory leader and UK prime minister, according to an exclusive poll of party members for The Observer.
With less than three weeks to go before the September 2 deadline for voting, the survey by Opinium of 570 Conservative members puts the foreign secretary on 61 per cent and the former chancellor on 39 per cent, The Guardian reported.
Truss' lead is, however, less than in some other recent polls of the Tory electorate, possibly suggesting that Sunak may have closed the gap in recent days.
She has come under increasing pressure over her refusal to back what she describes as "handouts" to help people with their energy bills, and was heavily criticised for a U-turn over pay rises for public sector workers outside London and the south-east of England.
Opinium's detailed questioning also uncovers a striking lack of enthusiasm for either candidate when members are asked whether they would prefer one of them to Boris Johnson to run the party and country, The Guardian reported.
Opinium asked members what the main single reason was that they backed one of the two candidates. For Sunak the most cited reason was that he would be better at managing the economy (22 per cent), while 10 per cent said they regarded him as the most competent or intelligent.
A main reason mentioned by people who backed Truss was dislike of Sunak (14 per cent). The same proportion (14 per cent) said the foreign secretary was more honest and trustworthy, while 10 per cent chose the fact that she had remained loyal to Johnson and not called on him to resign. Some 2 per cent of Tory members cited race or ethnicity as a reason for supporting Truss and not Sunak.
Chris Curtis of Opinium said that despite an apparent growing nostalgia among Tory members for Johnson - and a less than ecstatic response to either of the candidates bidding to replace him - it was now hard to see how Truss could fail to become the next prime minister, The Guardian reported.
"From the moment we knew the final two candidates, it has been clear that Truss has had all the momentum, and our latest poll sets out just how large her lead among the party members has become," he said.