Kate Forbes is the preferred candidate for the next SNP leader and first minister among Scottish voters, a poll has suggested.
The research, conducted this week, put Ms Forbes ahead of her rivals despite the first days of her campaign being rocked by criticism over her views on social issues.
As well as Ms Forbes, the Finance Secretary, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former minister Ash Regan are bidding to become the next SNP leader and first minister.
In the Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times, 23% said they would like Ms Forbes to be the next SNP leader, with 15% saying so for Mr Yousaf and 7% saying so for Ms Regan.
The response of “don’t know” was on 49% in answer to this question.
A total of 1,026 voters in Scotland were polled between February 21 and 24.
However, the contest will be decided by a vote of SNP members rather than voters at large.
Just hours after announcing her bid for the leadership, Ms Forbes told the media she would not have voted for equal marriage if she had been in parliament at the time.
These statements, along with others relating to her religious views as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, led to some of her early backers withdrawing their support.
Among SNP voters, the Panelbase poll put Ms Forbes in the lead for preference to be first minister at 20%, with Mr Yousaf on 18% and Ms Regan on 9%.
The poll also asked voters about the candidates’ performance in their ministerial roles in terms of whether they were doing a good or bad job.
Mr Yousaf was on minus 16 in this regard.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge show, he said: “Any health secretary in the midst of a global pandemic is going to face the challenges that we’re facing up here in Scotland.
“In fact, those long waits (in hospitals) are replicated in Conservative-led England or Labour-run Wales.
“So, those are common problems faced right across the UK.”
He said the health service in Scotland had avoided strike action because he had “reached out” and engaged with trade unions, and a compromise had been reached.