PRINCETON, NJ -- More registered voters say they would definitely vote for Mitt Romney or might consider doing so (62%) than say the same about his two main rivals in the 2012 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama (54%) and Republican Rick Perry (53%).
Though Romney currently receives the highest level of consideration among voters, more say they would "definitely vote for" Obama (33%) than say this about either Romney (21%) or Perry (20%). That may reflect the virtual certainty that Obama will be the Democratic candidate for president, while Republicans' loyalties are divided between their two leading contenders.
That dynamic is apparent in the higher percentage of Democratic registered voters who say they definitely would vote for Obama (70%) than of Republican registered voters who would definitely vote for either of the main Republican contenders (41% for Perry and 44% for Romney). Once the Republican nominee is decided, the percentage of Republicans who say they would definitely vote for that candidate should increase significantly.
Romney's advantage in broader voter consideration over Perry and Obama results partly from his greater appeal to independent voters -- 70% say they would definitely vote for him or consider doing so, compared with 60% for Perry and 45% for Obama. Romney also receives greater consideration from Republican and Democratic voters than does Perry, and matches the 90% party loyalty Obama gets from his party's supporters.
The greater consideration Romney gets among registered voters speaks to his potential in the 2012 election, something that has not necessarily been translated to performance yet. Romney is essentially tied with Obama in the latest head-to-head matchup for the general election, and currently trails Perry in Republicans' current preferences for the party's presidential nominee. However, the same poll finds Republicans saying they are more willing to trade agreement on the issues for electability when choosing their party's presidential nominee, something that could work to Romney's advantage given that he currently fares slightly better than Perry in a head-to-head matchup versus Obama.
Voter Consideration for Romney Growing, Flat for Obama
The 62% of voters who are considering voting for Romney is up significantly from the 48% who said so when Gallup asked a similar question in April. At that time, 54% of registered voters said they would definitely vote for Obama or consider doing so, the same percentage as now. Perry, who did not officially enter the race until August, was not included in the April poll.
Despite his lower April numbers, Romney still fared as well as or better than the other leading Republican contenders at that time, including Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee -- both of whom declined to run -- and Sarah Palin, who has not yet made an official announcement on a 2012 presidential candidacy.
At the moment, Romney has a greater reservoir of potential voter support than does either of his main rivals for the presidency. To prevail, Romney must convert as much of that potential support as possible to actual support. Should he defeat Perry for the nomination, his level of actual support among Republican voters should increase to levels approaching those Obama currently enjoys among Democratic voters. Perry's level of support among Republicans would probably also approach those levels if he wins the nomination.
Thus, a key to gauging candidate electability and ultimately the winner of the 2012 election will be the candidate's appeal to independent voters. Currently, Romney seems to have an edge in three respects: the greatest number of independent voters would definitely vote for him or consider voting for him; he leads Obama among independent voters in a head-to-head matchup; and he fares slightly better among independent voters in a head-to-head matchup with Obama than does Perry.
Although the presidential campaign is underway, the outlines of the race are far from settled and all of the candidates have plenty of time to campaign and solidify their support, convince voters they are the most electable, and attempt to change the dynamics of the race in their favor.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 889 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.