As the Republican presidential field heads into what increasingly looks like a lengthy battle to the GOP nomination, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that most Republican voters see a long primary process as potentially damaging to the party's eventual nominee.
According to the poll, conducted by telephone from February 8-13, 57 percent of Republican voters nationwide say a drawn-out nomination battle - and the associated attacks on a candidate - would hurt the nominee's chances in 2012.
Thirty-five percent say a long nomination contest would make the Republican candidate more tested and prepared for the general election; subsequently, they say, a long nominating contest would help the nominee.
Throughout the nomination process, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- the front-runner for much of the campaign -- has been the subject of near-constant assault from his Republican rivals, who have attacked his record and cast him as a flip-flopper.
A handful of recent polls, including tonight's CBS News/New York Times poll, suggest that the nomination fight has already taken a toll on Romney, whose support among independents has dropped considerably in the last several weeks.
, self-identified independents have recently shifted away from Romney toward President Obama.
A month ago, independents were more inclined to vote for Romney or Ron Paul than for the president; now they favor Mr. Obama against all four of the major Republican challengers.
The poll shows also shows Mr. Obama holding for the first time a significant lead over each of his potential Republican opponents -- including Romney -- in the general election.
The new survey shows the president leading Romney by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent, among registered voters. Last month, the two men were tied at 45 percent each. Mr. Obama led the recently-surging Rick Santorum by eight points in the poll, which showed Santorum faring better than Romney among independents.