In a poll of 75 Conservative Association chairmen by The Independent, all but one said the former secretary of state for defence had done the right thing by disclosing that he engaged in gay sex during his time as a student at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
Thirty-five of the chairmen said they did not believe there would be a leadership contest before the general election, and 22 said the party would fare no better with Mr Portillo as leader.
Although many Conservatives regard Mr Portillo as the natural successor to Margaret Thatcher, only 11 of those polled thought the party would gain more votes with him at the helm.
Barry Harris, chairman of South West Bedfordshire Conservatives, said: "We live in a modern world. When I was a lad this would have killed someone's career but it's 1999 and things have changed."
Only 12 of the party chairmen believed Mr Portillo's disclosure would damage his chances of eventually becoming leader, while 48 felt it would not.Reuse content