Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) - One day before a CNN Western Republican presidential debate, a new national survey indicates that Mitt Romney and Herman Cain are essentially tied for the lead in the race for the GOP nomination, with Rick Perry dropping to a distant third.
But according to the CNN/ORC International Poll released Monday, only one third of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say their minds are made up.
See full results (PDF)
Programming note: GOP presidential candidates next face off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, October 18, in the CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. Submit your questions for the debate here.
Twenty-six percent say they are likely to support Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who's making his second bid for the White House, with Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show host, at 25%. Romney's one point margin is well within the poll's sampling error. Cain has seen his support nearly triple, from 9% in September to 25%, while Romney's edged up four points.
According to the poll, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's at 13%. Perry quickly surged to the top of the national polls after he launched his campaign on August 13. But thanks to an uneven debate performance in late September, a distant showing at a much watched straw poll in Florida two days later, and constant attacks on his stance on illegal immigration and Social Security by the other candidates, Perry has faded in the polls. His strength has been cut in half since September in CNN polling.
"Republicans who support the tea party movement love Herman Cain - he gets support from 39% of them, more than double the number who support Mitt Romney," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Republicans who say they are nuetral toward the tea party back Romney by roughly the same margin – 35% of them favor Romney compared to just 14% for Cain."
The survey indicates that 9% back Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who's making his third bid for the presidency, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 6%, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 2%, and former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 1%.
"There has been little change for the candidates in single digits since September - just two- to three-point swings for Paul and Gingrich and little or no change for Bachmann, Santorum and Huntsman," adds Holland.
According to the poll, only one third of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they will definitely support the candidate they are currently backing, with two thirds saying they may change their minds.
"With only 33% of all Republicans saying that their minds are made up, it's far too early to say the race is over, or even that is has boiled down to a mano-a-mano fight between Romney and Cain," says Holland.
The survey indicates that most Republicans say they are satisfied with the field of GOP candidates still in the race, although only one in five describe themselves as very satisfied. Republicans who back the tea party are more satisfied with the field of candidates than Republicans who are neutral toward the tea party.
Is the GOP nomination worth fighting for?
"Most definitely. There is a big 'enthusiasm gap' between Republicans and Democrats that, if it persists, may boost the eventually GOP nominee's chances in 2012," says Holland.
Two thirds of all registered Republicans say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting next year, compared to less than half of all Democrats. In the 2008 election cycle, the Democrats were more enthusiastic that then GOPers, a major advantage that helped elect then Sen. Barack Obama.
Some of the current enthusiasm gap is likely due to the fact that the Republicans are in the middle of a classic battle for their party's nomination while Democrats, for now, have nothing to pay attention to. But if that gap persists once the primary season is over, Obama will have a more difficult road back to the White House. For the record, Democrats seem happy with Obama - eight in ten want to see the party re-nominate the President, his highest number on that measure since June.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from October 14-16, with 1,007 adults, including 416 Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points with a sampling error of five percentage points for questions asked only of Republicans.
–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this story.