Poll: Obama enjoys sizeable lead over Romney, Pawlenty

President Obama would beat two top contenders for the Republican nomination in 2012 by a wide margin, a new poll found Thursday.

The president would beat former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) by nine percentage points, and best former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) by 19 points if the election were held today, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

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Forty-nine percent of registered voters would elect Obama and 40 percent would choose Romney in a matchup between the two. Five percent were undecided, and 6 percent would prefer another candidate.

Obama would beat Pawlenty, 50 percent to 31 percent. Ten percent were undecided, 9 percent said it depends, and 6 percent would vote for a different candidate.

Republicans actually fare better at this early point in the cycle with a generic candidate on the ballot. Forty-five percent of registered voters like Obama against a generic Republican, who would get 40 percent of the vote.

To an extent, Obama's early advantage reflects the fact that the race for president in 2012 hasn't formally gotten under way. Neither Romney nor Pawlenty has announced their candidacies, though both are expected to run.

For Pawlenty, his disadvantage against Obama at this point stems in part from his low name identification numbers. Sixty-one percent of Americans said they weren't sure who Pawlenty was. Still 20 percent said they were unfamiliar with Romney, despite his having run for the Republican nomination in 2008.

Both Romney and Pawlenty face the challenge first, though, of winning the GOP nomination.

In the Republican primary, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee ranks as the first choice of 25 percent of registered Republican voters and the second choice of 13 percent. Romney is the first choice of 21 percent and the second choice of 16 percent.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the first choice of 12 percent and the second choice of 14 percent. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is the first choice of 13 percent and the second choice of 8 percent.

Pawlenty is the first choice of 6 percent and the second choice of 8 percent.

The poll, conducted Feb. 24-28, has a 3.1 percent margin of error.