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Poll: 58% of Republicans want more presidential choices

Chart - Satisfied with Republican Candidates for President

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

The nominating process may officially be underway, but Republicans have yet to enthusiastically embrace a potential nominee for president - and despite the late date, most would like to see other candidates enter the race, according to a new CBS News poll.

The survey finds that 58 percent of Republican primary voters want more presidential choices, while just 37 percent say they are satisfied with the current field. The percentage of Republican primary voters that wants more choices has increased 12 percentage points since October.

Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the nomination, has struggled to break 30 percent support in state and local polls in an election cycle that has seen multiple candidates move ahead of Romney in the polls before seeing their support erode. In this national survey, taken after Romney's narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses, the former Massachusetts governor leads the field- though he holds just 19 percent support. Only 28 percent of GOP primary voters say they've made up their mind, and just 20 percent who've made a choice strongly favor their candidate. 

It's mathematically possible for another candidate to enter the race as late as early February and still win enough delegates to take the nomination, though some deadlines for candidates to get on state ballots have already passed, including those in delegate-rich Virginia and Illinois. A late entry into the GOP race would come with potentially-overwhelming obstacles, including the need to instantly build a national campaign apparatus and do the hard work of getting on state ballots in an extremely compressed time period.


The list of prominent Republicans who have announced they would not seek the presidency this cycle include Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan and Haley Barbour.

There is no candidate in the GOP field who more than one third of Republican primary voters say they would enthusiastically support if he were the nominee. Rick Santorum does best in terms of enthusiasm, with 33 percent saying they would enthusiastically support him. (Roughly one in two say their support for Santorum would either come with reservations or simply result from the fact that he is the GOP nominee.) Santorum is followed by Newt Gingrich, whom 29 percent would enthusiastically support, and Romney, whom 27 percent would enthusiastically support. They're followed by Rick Perry at 17 percent, Ron Paul at 15 percent and Jon Huntsman at 12 percent.

Despite their dissatisfaction with the field, Republicans are more enthusiastic than Democrats about the 2012 presidential election. Forty-one percent of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic than in past elections, compared to 21 percent of Democrats and independents.

Republicans are split on what they are looking for in a candidate: While 48 percent say they want someone with whom they agree on the issues, 47 percent say it's more important to nominate a candidate who will win in 2012. Romney is seen by 49 percent of GOP primary votersas the candidate most likely to win next November; no other candidate comes close.

Poll: Romney leads, Santorum surges into top 3

Candidate qualities

Santorum leads the pack when Republican primary voters are asked which candidate best represents their values, with 22 percent support. Romney comes in a close second with 21 percent support, followed by Gingrich at 14 percent and Paul at 13 percent. Santorum also leads on who will best promote conservative principles, with 29 percent support to 17 percent for Gingrich and 16 percent for Romney.

Romney dominates the field on the question of who would best handle the economy and unemployment, which voters consistently cite as their top concern. Thirty-one percent point to Romney, followed by Gingrich at 16 percent, Paul at 13 percent and Santorum at 12 percent. Last month, Romney and Gingrich were tied atop the field on this question at 26 percent each.

Gingrich dominates on which candidate would best handle an international crisis, with 35 percent support. Romney follows at 21 percent; no other candidate is in the double digits.

Santorum is the most popular candidate among white evangelicals, who make up 39 percent of Republican primary voters nationwide. He is also most popular among Republicans who call themselves very conservative, 26 percent of whom support him.

Romney dominates among self described moderate Republican primary voters, who make up one third of the GOP electorate. Twenty-five percent back him, compared to just 8 percent for Gingrich and 5 percent for Santorum. Romney also holds a double-digit lead among GOP primary voters unaffiliated with the Tea Party movement, while Gingrich and Santorum split support among the roughly half of GOP primary voters who align themselves with the Tea Party.


Among GOP hopefuls, Romney fares best against Obama

Read the complete poll

This poll was conducted by telephone from January 4-8, 2012 among 1,413 adults nationwide.

1,247 interviews were conducted with registered voters and 440 with voters who said they plan to vote in a Republican primary. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters could be plus or minus three points and five points for the sample of Republican primary voters. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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