[Click above to watch Reason Foundation's polling director Emily Ekins discussing the findings of the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey]

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a 20 percent to 18 percent edge over Texas Gov. Rick Perry among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters in the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey.

Two potential candidates not currently in the race, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (12%) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (8%), placed third and fourth among Republicans asked to name whom they would favor if the GOP primary were held today. They were followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (8%), Rep. Ron Paul (7%), Herman Cain (4%), Newt Gingrich (3%), former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (2%, but no longer in the race), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (1%), former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (<1%), and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (<1%). Approximately 16% of Republican voters are undecided.

This Reason-Rupe poll  surveyed a random, national sample of 1,200 adults by telephone (790 on landlines, 410 on cell phones) over August 9-18, 2011. The overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The GOP presidential primary poll question surveyed 419 adults who self-identified as Republican and "lean-Republican"; that specific question has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Reason-Rupe Republican Primary Presidential Poll

Responses to "If you were voting today in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, which one of the following candidates would you favor?"

  • Mitt Romney 20%
  • Rick Perry 18%
  • Sarah Palin 12%
  • Rudy Giuliani  8%
  • Michelle Bachmann  8%
  • Ron Paul  7%
  • Herman Cain  4%
  • Newt Gingrich  3%
  • Tim Pawlenty  2%
  • Jon Huntsman  1%
  • Rick Santorum <1%
  • Gary Johnson <1%
  • Undecided 16%

Below is a chart of recent national polls listing various GOP hopefuls, updated to reflect the new Reason-Rupe findings:

The above chart shows that Perry’s numbers soar when Palin and Giuliani are not included in the list of candidates (they were not listed in either the Rasmussen or Gallup polls). This suggests Perry may regain a lead over Romney if it becomes clear that Palin and Giuliani will not join the race.

Tea Party favorites Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul came next with 8 percent and 7 percent of respondents respectively. This is especially interesting since Paul and Bachmann came within 152 votes of each other at the Ames Iowa Straw Poll, with Bachmann winning. Paul consistently does well in straw polls, leading many pundits to contend this simply is a result of his being better able to mobilize supporters to come out to events. However, these new Reason-Rupe poll findings suggest that Paul’s competitive standing with Michelle Bachmann extends well beyond his strong showing in Iowa.

Approval Ratings for Congress, President Obama; Support for Third-Party Presidential Candidates

The Reason-Rupe poll of 1,200 adults also finds an overwhelming 81 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing while just 14 percent approve. Forty-seven percent of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling his job, with 48 percent disapproving.  The president’s bigger problem may be that 42 percent of Americans say they “definitely will not” vote for him in 2012, while 25 percent say they “will definitely” vote for him, and another 29 percent will consider voting for him.

But voters may not want to limit their 2012 presidential options to just President Obama and the eventual Republican nominee. Nearly 73 percent of Americans say they “will” or “may” consider voting for an independent or third-party candidate in 2012.  And in a three-way race like the 1992 presidential election, in which Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote and Bill Clinton won with 43 percent of the vote, the Reason-Rupe poll finds there would be significant support for a candidate who is “conservative on economic issues and liberal on social issues.” Forty-eight percent of voters say they’d support such a candidate while 37 percent would not. The Tea Party could also make things very interesting if it were to run its own presidential candidate instead of supporting the GOP nominee. Nearly 37 percent of voters say they’d consider voting for a Tea Party candidate for president, 15 percent are undecided, and 49 percent say they wouldn’t support him or her.

Full Poll Online

The Reason-Rupe survey is online here and here (pdf). The poll was conducted for Reason Foundation by NSON Opinion Strategy.

This is part of a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues. This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

About Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets and publisher of the critically-acclaimed Reason magazine and its website www.reason.com. For more information, please visit www.reason.org.

Video interview conducted by Michelle Fields and edited by Josh Swain. Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel to get automatic notification when new material goes lives.