WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House hopefuls Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin lead a narrower field of potential rivals for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, according to a poll released on Thursday.
The Gallup survey is the organization’s first since Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and real estate mogul Donald Trump opted out of the slowly evolving primary race.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and so far the apparent front-runner, led Palin by 17 percent to 15 percent, well within the poll’s 4 percentage points margin of error. Texas Representative Ron Paul ranked third at 10 percent.
But the survey of 971 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said 22 percent of respondents had no preference.
Neither Romney nor Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and a former Alaska governor, has formally announced plans for the 2012 campaign.
“Romney’s and Palin’s status at the top of the field is owing in large part to their high name identification among rank-and-file Republicans,” Gallup said.
The current make-up of the Republican field has caused concern among top party officials who fear that none would be likely to defeat Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama in a general election.
Some Republicans had tried to persuade Daniels to join the race, saying he would bring budget-cutting credibility from his record as a governor. But Daniels, who served as White House budget director under President George W. Bush, announced last weekend that he would not run.
Gallup said Daniels was initially included in the May 20-24 survey but was removed after his announcement on May 22.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are on a wish list of potential candidates for unhappy Republicans.
Two candidates who have formally announced their intentions -- former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty -- trailed far behind Romney and Palin.
Gingrich, whose candidacy had a rocky start after he criticized House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Republican Medicare reform plan, ranked fourth at 9 percent with Pawlenty in sixth at 6 percent.
Pawlenty was bested by former pizza executive Herman Cain, who came in fifth at 8 percent.
Editing by Vicki Allen