A new survey of Labour party councillors in marginal constituencies has found that while most back leadership challenger Owen Smith, many suspect their local members will not follow suit.
In a survey of 350 Labour councillors across 250 marginal constituencies, Anglia Ruskin University found that 60 per cent backed Smith.
By contrast, just 28 per cent said they supported current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
However, despite this, many reported belief that Corbyn retains strong support among party members, and just over one in four said they believed that their local members would also back the Pontypridd MP's leadership bid.
Labour also saw more than 183,000 people pay £25 to apply to join the party as registered supporters to vote in the upcoming leadership election.
And just over half of councillors surveyed told Anglia Ruskin that they believe the majority of their local registered supporters will back Corbyn.
By contrast, just 10 per cent said they felt local £25 supporters were backing Smith.
Anglia Ruskin history and politics lecturer Dr Richard Carr said: “Our data suggests that Owen Smith’s appeal reaches beyond the Westminster bubble and into committee rooms and Labour council meetings across Britain.
“But it may not matter. If Owen Smith is unable to convince a sizeable chunk of £25 registered supporters that he is the man for them, his campaign looks likely to be sunk.
“He might be seen by Labour party councillors as best placed to connect with the wider electorate and challenge Theresa May, but he’ll need a strong change in the winds to get past Jeremy Corbyn right now.”
It comes as Labour general secretary Iain McNicol has sought to clamp down on abusive behaviour by party backers in the run up to the leadership election.
A brick was thrown through the constituency office of former Labour leadership candidate Angela Eagle earlier this month, and Corbyn has been keen to condemn any instances of intimidation.
However, McNicol has now gone further by threatening to remove votes from £25 backers or union members found to have conducted intimidating behaviour, while party members now risk being suspended while allegations of abuse are investigated.
“Choosing our candidate to be the next Labour prime minister is a great responsibility on us all,” McNicol said.
“We owe it to the millions of people who need the Labour party to fight for them, to conduct our leadership election in a way that gives them confidence in our ability to build a better Britain.”