The survey indicates voters still want to kick the tires a bit more, said John Zogby, the pollster who conducted the survey.
“They’ve test-driven a bunch of vehicles [and] while they haven’t quite gotten the perfect vehicle, they’re more comfortable with this one than they are with any of the others. The others have been ruled out,” Mr. Zogby said.
“They’re going to buy this car, but they’re just not exactly ready to make the down payment. They will. And it has nothing to do with Santorum, Gingrich, Paul or, frankly, as we see in this poll, anybody else.”
Voters remain apprehensive. In fact, the number of those reporting they aren’t sure about their choice of candidate has risen from the last Times/jz Analytics Poll, taken in midJanuary, which found that just 12 percent weren’t sure whom they would support. Now that number is 21 percent.
Although he seems to have a handle on the race, Mr. Romney’s support has fallen 6.1 percentage points since that poll. But so has support for Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul, leaving Mr. Santorum the only one to show improvement.
Even with Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul still competing, voters seem to view the race as a two-man affair between Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum.
Mr. Romney had the best February, winning in Nevada, Maine, Michigan and Arizona. Meanwhile, Mr. Santorum established himself as the chief alternative, winning caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a nonbinding primary in Missouri.
Mr. Gingrich hasn’t won since South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary, while Mr. Paul has yet to win a single state — though he contends that when the delegates are selected from caucus states such as Iowa, he will outperform his initial showing.
Mr. Santorum came close to Mr. Romney in Michigan in part because he urged Democrats to come out and vote for him. Liberal interest groups made the same pitch, believing that it would further wound Mr. Romney.
GOP voters were divided on whether that should be allowed. About 48 percent said voting should be limited to dedicated Republicans, while 44 percent said it should be open to Democrats and independents as well.
On Tuesday, the four major candidates square off in 10 states. The biggest prizes of the day are Georgia, Ohio and Virginia.
As Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum have traded wins, some Republican strategists have begun to contemplate whether a nominee will be decided by the time of the convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.
The Times poll signals that there is not a lot of enthusiasm for that scenario.
Just 28 percent of those surveyed said they would like the nomination go to a brokered convention. About 48 percent said they are satisfied with their choices, and 24 percent said they’re not sure.
The Times poll also tested a number of other names that pundits have floated as late entrants into the race, or as potential consensus picks at a convention, and found none of them tops Mr. Romney.
In fact, Mrs. Palin, Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels all seem to cut more from the rest of the field than from Mr. Romney, who wins about a quarter of the voters in each scenario.
Mr. Christie would be the strongest of the late entries, garnering 14.3 percent in a hypothetical matchup with the current field — good for third place above Mr. Paul and Mr. Gingrich, but still trailing Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum.
The bad news for Mr. Romney is that in just about every question, he tops out at about 25 percent — substantially lower than where those who went on to win previous Republican nominations were at this point.
“It’s nowhere near the margin he should be at in March,” Mr. Zogby said.
But as long as Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum remain in the race, Mr. Romney faces split conservative opposition, and that has led to victories.
Addressing the split Sunday on NBC’S “Meet the Press” program, Mr. Gingrich said there is room for two “conservative” candidates.
“In a sense, he and I represent two parts of conservatism,” the Georgia Republican said, arguing that Mr. Santorum appeals to blue-collar conservative voters but “has a harder time when he gets outside the industrial states.”
“I’m much more solution-oriented and much more willing to do things like have personal Social Security savings accounts for young people, I’m more willing to talk about the kind of solutions we need with being able to produce enough oil and gas,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I think, in that sense, we have different approaches to how we’d represent conservatism.”
The poll surveyed 500 voters who said they either already voted in the Republican primary or were likely to do so. It was conducted Friday and Saturday — after Mr. Romney’s wins in primaries in Arizona and Michigan, and his victory in Wyoming’s caucuses.
Mr. Santorum placed second in each of those.
Late Saturday Mr. Romney also handily won Washington’s caucuses with 38 percent of the vote, well ahead of Mr. Paul’s 25 percent and Mr. Santorum’s 24 percent. Mr. Gingrich trailed with 10 percent.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a rally Sunday in Knoxville, Tenn. He and Rick Santorum head into Super Tuesday tied in The Washington Times/jz Analytics’ new poll of Republican primary voters nationwide.