(CNN) – Three weeks before the first Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney remains the front-runner in the battle for the state that holds the first primary in the road to the White House, according to a new poll of Granite State voters.
But a CNN/WMUR survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire also indicates that the race is far from settled, with nearly nine in ten potential Republican primary voters saying they haven't come close to making up their minds and more than four in ten saying they're not satisfied with the field of GOP candidates running for president.
Listen to CNN Radio's Bob Costantini and CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser discuss the poll results:
According to the poll, which was released Monday, one-third of those questioned say they would vote for Romney if there election were held today, far outpacing any other candidate or potential candidate. The former governor from neighboring Massachusetts and 2008 Republican White House hopeful has formed a presidential exploratory committee and is expected to formally announce his second bid for the White House.
"The shifting nature of the Republican field and a perception that the 'perfect candidate' candidate has not appeared, has led many New Hampshire Republicans to support the best known candidate, Mitt Romney," said Andrew Smith, Director of the UNH Survey Center. "Romney has been the clear favorite among New Hampshire Republicans for more than two years and no other candidate has persuaded voters to move away from Romney."
Romney's large lead in the new CNN/WMUR poll as well as other GOP horserace surveys of Granite State voters shouldn't be any surprise. Romney is well known in the Granite state. Massachusetts media dominates in the heavily populated southern part of New Hampshire. Romney campaigned heavily in the state in the 2008 primary, and he has a summer home in the state's lakes region. A win in New Hampshire would be important for Romney's hunt for the nomination. He finished second in the state in the 2008 primary to Sen. John McCain, who went on to win the nomination.
The poll indicates that a desire by New Hampshire Republicans to pick a someone who can beat President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election may be behind his poll numbers.
"Republicans are looking for someone who can take on President Obama, and right now, Romney is seen as the only Republican who can do that," adds Smith.
"Romney also appears to benefit from the perception that he is a strong leader and has the right experience to be President," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "He also gets relatively high marks on the economy and the budget deficit, and despite criticism of the health care policy Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts, he has a solid lead over his GOP rivals on that issue as well."
No other candidate is currently in double digits. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran as a libertarian candidate in 1988 and as a Republican White House hopeful in 2008, comes in at nine percent, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at seven percent, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at six percent apiece. While Paul, Pawlenty and Gingrich are all declared candidates, Giuliani has not taken any concrete steps towards making another bid for the GOP nomination, although he hasn't ruled out a run.
According to the poll, five percent back former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee also has not ruled out a bid for the White House, but hasn't taken any serious step towards running.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain, and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, who recently stepped down as U.S. ambassador to China, are all tied at four percent. Cain has officially declared his candidacy, while Bachmann and Huntsman are expected to announce their intentions soon.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania comes in at two percent in the poll. Santorum is also expected to formally declare his candidacy soon.
Although the poll indicates Romney far ahead of the rest of the field in New Hampshire, Holland warns against thinking Romney's a shoo-in.
"Only 13 percent of potential GOP primary voters in that state say they have definitely decided who to vote for or are leaning toward someone. And 43 percent wish that someone else would get in the race, with less than one in ten very satisfied with the current field," adds Holland. "The race is likely to take some funny twists and turns between now and primary day."
The interviews for this poll started last Wednesday, when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was still considered a potential GOP candidate and his name was included in the list of Republican hopefuls read to respondents. Daniels did not announce his decision to forego a bid for the White House until Sunday, after nearly all the interviews had been conducted.
How can the University of New Hampshire report results that exclude Daniels?
"The questionnaire also asked respondents for their second choice. As a result, UNH can take those respondents who said Daniels was their first choice and allocate them to the person who was their second-favorite candidate, "says Holland. "That allows us to present a more accurate reflection of the state of the race now that Daniels is out of the running."
The poll also indicates that New Hampshire Democrats are solidly behind President Obama as their 2012 candidate.
"When asked if they would vote for President Obama or another Democratic candidate, 73 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they will vote for Obama, only 6 percent said they would vote for another Democrat, and 21 percent are unsure," says Smith. "The percentage of Democrats who say they will vote for Obama is at its highest point, and indication that there is little support for a Democratic challenge."
The CNN/WMUR poll was conducted May 18-22, 347 New Hampshire residents who say they will vote in the Republican primary and 289 New Hampshire residents who say they will vote in the Democratic primary interviewed by telephone by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
The poll's sampling error for likely GOP primary voters is plus or minus five percentage points.
CNN, WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader are teaming up on June 13 to host the state's first GOP presidential primary debate of the 2012 election cycle.