While 26 per cent thought that Sainsbury's would become a worse company if it changed hands, only 8 per cent expected it to improve.
The findings, revealed in an exclusive poll of 1,000 consumers conducted for Retail Week by ICM, revealed deep misgivings about the implications of private equity ownership of Sainsbury's for customers and employees.
Crucially, ABC1 shoppers - an important Sainsbury's constituency - were among those most concerned about the impact a takeover could have on the quality and value of the retailer's offer.
Private equity's influential position in retailing and commerce more widely has attracted rising controversy and trade unions and leading business figures have voiced concerns over their business practices.
Earlier this week, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber labelled private equity investors 'amoral asset-strippers' and 'casino capitalists'.
Paul Myners, who as Marks & Spencer chairman successfully repelled a lunge for the business by tycoon Sir Philip Green in 2004, also weighed into the fray. He warned that private equity ownership often endangered job security and employee benefits.
As Retail Week went to press, the private equity consortium eyeing Sainsbury's - comprising CVC, KKR and Blackstone - had not formalised an offer.
Sainsbury's is understood to be considering asking the Takeover Panel to force the firms to declare their intentions.