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Poll: GOP's 2012 contenders unknown, unloved


Updated 9:23 a.m. ET

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

It's early yet, but the Grand Old Party clearly has its work cut out to sell the voting American public on a candidate to challenge President Obama in the 2012 national election.

A 56 percent majority of Republican voters told a CBS News/New York Times poll that none of the names officially or unofficially in the hat at this stage made them feel enthusiastic as potential nominees.

When asked if there was anyone they did feel enthusiastic about for the nomination -- without mentioning any names -- none of the contenders garnered more than 9 percent. That high of 9 percent went to Mitt Romney, with 8 percent saying they felt the same about Mike Huckabee, followed by 7 percent for Donald Trump, then Newt Gingrich with 5 percent, and Sarah Palin with 4 percent.

The big message from the poll, says CBS News political correspondent Jan Crawford, is that the race for the Republican nomination is wide open (watch her report at left). Republican voters are still getting to know the potential candidates, and they want more information. Take the case of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty; his favorability is at 20 percent, but 78 percent of Republican voters say they've not heard enough about him or are just undecided, and that's the case with a majority of the field.

When respondents were asked their feelings about specific Republican hopefuls, the most "favorable" ratings went to former Arkansas Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Fifty-four percent of Republican voters expressed a favorable view of Huckabee, followed by Sarah Palin with 51 percent, Mitt Romney with 42 percent, and Newt Gingrich with 42 percent. 

Favorable ratings for some of these possible candidates are slightly higher among those who support the Tea Party movement (54 percent of whom identify as Republicans and 36 percent of whom are independents). Huckabee and Palin's favorable ratings are higher, as are Bachmann's. Bachmann does especially well among those Tea Party supporters who are Republicans, compared to those who call themselves independents. 

As's Stephanie Condon reported Wednesday, businessman Donald Trump may have gained some momentum in recent polls due to his high public profile relative to the other potential candidates, of whom Americans remain largely ignorant.

In the CBS News/New York Times Poll, Republicans were split in their views of Trump: 35 percent said they view him favorably, while 32 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of him. Another 33 percent said they were undecided or hadn't yet heard enough about him to form an opinion.

At left, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer discusses Trump and the rest of the GOP candidates.

In addition, most registered voters nationwide (72 percent) do not think Trump is a serious presidential candidate, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents.  Even though 37 percent of Republicans (and 38 percent of Tea Party supporters) think Trump is a serious candidate, more than half of each of these groups does not.

Predictably, the field of potential GOP candidates fared far better in popularity ratings when the Republican and Tea Party voters' poll responses were looked at in isolation. When combined with the other respondents, Huckabee still came out on top of the popularity game with 32 percent of all those polled saying they held a favorable opinion of the governor-turned-talk show host.

Mitt Romney followed with a 28 percent favorability rating, then Sarah Palin with 26 percent. However, the highest number of overall unfavorable ratings also went to Palin, with 55 percent voicing a negative opinion of the ex-Alaskan governor. A high number of respondents - 46 percent - also expressed an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

While the poll shows a serious lack of knowledge about the GOP contenders among all voters, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and Jon Huntsman were the least well-known of the potential candidates. More than 80 percent of Republican voters said they could offer no opinion of Barbour or Daniels; that number was even higher (94 percent) for Huntsman.

Even Huckabee, who was rated the most favorable GOP hopeful by both Republicans and the wider public, has left 35 percent of his own party's supporters and 42 percent of all those polled scratching their heads for an opinion of him.

More from the poll: One in four Americans think Obama was not born in U.S.
PDF: Read the complete poll results

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,332 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 15-20, 2011. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher. An oversample of Republicans was also conducted for this poll, for a total of 543 interviews among this group. The results were then weighted in proportion to the average party distributions in previous 2011 CBS News and CBS News/New York Times Polls and in the random sample in this poll. The margin of error for Republicans is plus or minus five percentage points.

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