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Poll shows GOP voters still looking for answers

GOP Leader undecided for 2012

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

With just two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican presidential nomination remains exceptionally fluid, according to a new CBS News poll.

The two top candidates in the survey, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, each attract the support of just 20 percent of Republican primary voters nationwide. They are, in a sense, in a four-way tie atop the poll - though not with their rivals.

Instead, the next highest finisher in the survey was "someone else," the choice of 19 percent of GOP primary voters. Another 17 percent said they were undecided or didn't know who they would support.

Even among those who have made a choice, there is plenty of uncertainly. Seventy-nine percent of this group say it's too early to fully commit to a candidate, while just 21 percent say they've made up their mind. And only 23 percent say they strongly favor their candidate, while 62 percent say they have reservations.

The race has actually become more uncertain over the past few months. In November, 28 percent of those who had made a choice said they had made up their mind, and 32 percent said they strongly favored their candidate. Among GOP primary voters overall, the percentage who say they want someone else has increased seven points since late October, when CBS News polling showed Herman Cain atop the field with 25 percent support - five percentage points more than Romney and Gingrich hold today.

CBS News poll chart for GOP nomination, Dec. 20, 2011 CBS News Poll

The new poll did show slight increases in support for Gingrich, Romney and Ron Paul since last month's CBS News poll, with Paul rising from 5 percent to 10 percent. He was followed by Rick Perry with 6 percent support, Michele Bachmann with 4 percent, Rick Santorum with 3 percent and Jon Huntsman with 1 percent.

Still, no candidate was able to win the support of even one in four Republican primary voters, a sign that the voters continue to look for answers in a primary season that has seen Cain, Perry, Bachmann and even Donald Trump shoot to the top of the polls before falling back to the back of the pack. Another poll this week, from the Washington Post and ABC News, showed Romney and Gingrich with 30 percent support - though that survey didn't include "someone else" as an option.

One bright spot for Republicans? GOP voters are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than Democratic voters. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in past elections, compared to just 21 percent of Democrats.

Views of the Candidates:

Chart - 2012 Republican Nomination

Gingrich is the top choice of GOP primary voters who identify as conservative or Tea Party supporters, while Romney has the most support among moderates and those who don't support the Tea Party. Women are slightly more likely than men to favor Romney, while Paul has twice the support from men that he has from women.

Sixty percent of GOP primary voters identify as conservative, and less than a third identify as moderate. That presents complications for Romney, who is seen by nearly four in ten Republican primary voters as a moderate. (Only 31 percent call him a conservative.) Gingrich and Paul are more likely to be called conservative, with 41 percent deeming Gingrich a conservative and 38 percent saying the same of Paul.

Republican primary voters remain skeptical of Romney's sincerity. Only 38 percent say the former Massachusetts governor tells voters what he actually believes; one in two say he tells voters what he thinks they want to hear. Gingrich and Paul are seen as more sincere in their beliefs, with 61 percent indicating the two men say what they believe.

Romney does better on the question of which candidate has the right temperament to be president. Sixty-three percent say Romney has the appropriate temperament, compared to 56 percent for Gingrich and just 40 percent for Paul. Romney also edges his rivals on the question of values, with 57 percent saying Romney shares their values compared to 53 percent for Paul and 51 percent for Gingrich.

The former Massachusetts governor is seen as the most electable candidate, with 37 percent saying he has the best chance to beat President Obama next November. Gingrich is seen as most electable by 31 percent, while Paul lags far behind at just eight percent. Roughly one in two Republicans says it is more important to choose a Republican nominee who will win in 2012 than it is to select someone who agrees with them on the issues.

Yet Romney is far less likely to be seen as a major change from Mr. Obama, who has an 86 percent disapproval rating among Republican primary voters. Just 11 percent say he would be the biggest change from the president, compared to 27 percent for Gingrich and 32 percent for Paul.

And Gingrich, the former House speaker, is far more likely to be seen as best prepared for the presidency. Forty-four percent see Gingrich as best prepared for the job, compared to just 22 percent for Romney and 12 percent for Paul.

Romney and Gingrich split on who will best handle the economy - voters' top concern - at 26 percent each; Gingrich bests Romney on who would best handle the budget deficit (30 percent to 20 percent, with 20 percent for Paul) and on who would be most effective in reforming the tax code (29 percent to 16 percent, with 18 percent for Paul).

Nearly four in ten Republican primary voters say both Gingrich and Romney's policies will treat all Americans equally, though nearly a quarter of say their policies will favor the rich. Paul is less likely to be seen as favoring the rich, with half saying he will treat Americans equally and just seven percent saying he will favor the wealthy.

Meanwhile, economic issues continue to be far more important to Republican primary voters than social issues. Seventy-six percent (including 72 percent of white evangelicals) say a candidate's views on economic issues matter most to them, compared to 20 percent who say social issues are paramount.

MORE FROM THE POLL: Most back raising taxes on millionaires

Read the complete poll

This poll was conducted by telephone from December 14-18, 2011 among 992 adults nationwide.

893 interviews were conducted with registered voters and 291 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 six 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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