2012 hopefuls still largely unknown among GOP voters

Holly Bailey

In more evidence of the wide open 2012 GOP presidential field, a new New York Times/CBS poll finds that a majority of Republican voters still have formed no strong opinion about most of the potential candidates in the race.

While Tim Pawlenty launched his 2012 exploratory committee last month, 77 percent of GOP voters say they still don't know enough about the former Minnesota governor to form an opinion.

But Pawlenty is hardly alone among the so-called "unknown" candidates. Several other potential GOP contenders put up similar numbers, including Haley Barbour (85 percent), Mitch Daniels (88 percent), Michele Bachmann (75 percent), Rick Santorum (76 percent) and Jon Huntsman (93 percent).

The numbers weren't much better among the identified GOP frontrunners. Forty-three percent of GOP voters say they still don't know enough about Mitt Romney, compared to 35 percent for Mike Huckabee and 37 percent for Newt Gingrich.

The best known candidates in the field are Sarah Palin and Donald Trump—though that's not necessarily a good thing for their respective bids. Americans are roughly divided on their opinion of the real estate tycoon turned reality TV star—35 percent view him favorably, 32 percent unfavorably, while 33 percent of GOP voters still don't know what to make of Trump's 2012 hints.

According to the poll, 51 percent of GOP voters view Palin favorably. But when that question was presented  voters across all party lines, the results flip-flopped: 55 percent of all voters view her unfavorably, compared to just 26 percent who approved. Only 18 percent of all voters said they hadn't heard of Palin—the lowest number of any potential 2012 Republican, suggesting most voters have settled on their opinion of her.

Indeed, among all voters, Mike Huckabee boasted the highest approval rating of GOP candidates. Thirty-two percent view him favorably, compared to 25 percent who had a "not favorable" rating.

All told, 56 percent of GOP voters say they are "unenthusiastic" about the White House field--reflecting the findings of a Washington Post/ABC News poll from earlier this week.

(Photo of Pawlenty and Romney: Craig Lassig/AP)