Polling carried out by Channel 4 News gives Christian SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes MSP an eight per cent lead in the leadership race amongst the general Scottish public.
However, it found Ms Forbes is neck and neck with rival candidate Humza Yousaf among SNP supporters.
Among those who voted SNP in the last Holyrood election in 2021, 33% said Mr Yousaf will make the best first minister and 32% opted for Ms Forbes.
The poll was carried out by Ipsos for Channel 4 News, ahead of the first UK-wide TV debate tonight of the SNP leadership campaign.
Kate Forbes supporter Jim Fairlie MSP said:
“The recent polling shows that only Kate can win the public vote. The wider electorate views Kate as a trusted and talented leader with a track record of delivery.
“It is no wonder that the opposition party leaders are running scared. It is the SNP membership who will elect a new party leader - and they will want to elect an election-winner.”
Ipsos puts Ms Forbes, the current Scottish Finance Secretary, as the choice of 32% of Scots to be the next first minister.
Mr Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, is the favourite of 24% of those polled, while the third candidate in the contest, former Scottish community safety minister Ash Regan, is on 8%.
More than 1,500 Scots aged 16 and over were questioned between Monday and Tuesday this week for the poll.
It is SNP members who will decide who the party's next leader is - with the winner facing a vote of the Scottish Parliament on also becoming first minister. The SNP are in government in Holyrood, in coalition with the Greens.
The ballot of SNP party members gets under way on Monday and will run until March 27, with Nicola Sturgeon’s successor declared after a count.