BACKGROUND: In February 2003, a new General Practitioner (GP) contract was agreed between the profession's leaders and the government, which was later accepted following a national ballot of GPs. However, the ballot simply required respondents to vote for or against the proposal; it did not provide any opportunity to identify which aspects of the new contract were more or less acceptable. Since the proposed changes were far reaching, the implications of implementing and managing these were considerable. Consequently, some information about how GPs viewed various components of the new contract would enable a more targeted and effective management strategy to be developed that would facilitate the introduction of all aspects of the contract. OBJECTIVES: To survey GPs working within the West Midlands region regarding their opinions on each of the key features of the new contract. METHOD: A postal survey of 360 GPs was undertaken, using a specially devised questionnaire. RESULTS: Four factors emerged as the most acceptable aspects of the contract: option to opt out of out-of-hours work, flexibility in the services provided, prediction of future income levels and linking practice to performance targets. Least acceptable were: performance monitoring systems, the new financial formula for calculating income, greater patient involvement in service development and 24/48 hour access. With regard to potential outcomes of the contract, the most positive were considered to be increased proportion of salaried GPs, increased salaries, appropriate quality standards for care, earlier retirement; the factors least likely to be of potential benefit were: reduction in occupational stress, simplification of the regulatory framework, improved equity of workload and improved staff retention. Further analysis of the results using inferential statistics revealed a range of subgroup differences in reaction to the contract. CONCLUSION: Overall, those aspects of the new contract that are perceived to reduce workload and enhance salary were supported, while those that increase targets and bureaucracy were not. Generally, there was only moderate support for the changes, which could be explained by a general scepticism about any top-down modifications, the practicality and power of the changes to impact upon practice and/or a genuine belief that the modifications are unacceptable. Taken together, these results provide an indicative focus for managing the implementation of the new contract, especially with regard to its least acceptable components and the emerging differences between subgroups of GPs.