Florida Republicans currently prefer Texas Gov. Rick Perry by a slight margin over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in their party's battle to find a nominee to face President Barack Obama next year, a new poll released Thursday shows.

Perry was favored by 28 percent of the 374 registered Republican voters compared to 22 percent who wanted to see Romney as their nominee. The random telephone survey, conducted Sept. 14-19 Quinnipiac University, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points. No other Republican presidential hopeful in the present field of candidates received double-digit backing.

The poll comes out ahead of Thursday afternoon's candidate forum and an evening debate in swing-state Florida.

Perry's advantage over Romney was even greater should former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stay out of the race and also among GOP voters who described themselves as part of the Tea Party movement.

Perry was favored by 32 percent of Republicans to 21 percent who liked Romney better in a contest without Palin. The Texas governor led Romney 55 percent to 35 percent among Tea Party folks.

However, Quinnipiac's poll showed Obama would be more difficult to defeat if Perry becomes the Republican nominee, largely because Perry has work to do with voters independent of either major political party.

Romney, in a broader survey of 1,007 registered voters, was favored by 47 percent to Obama's 40 percent. Obama had a statistically meaningless 44-42 edge in a matchup with Perry. That larger sampling had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Perry also has work to do with Florida seniors on his conviction that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme." Fifty-eight percent said it was unfair to describe Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme," and there was virtually no support for reducing Social Security with the exception of raising the cap from the current $106,800 in salary subject to the tax.

Although Obama carried Florida by a comfortable margin in his 2008 victory over Republican John McCain, 53 percent of those questioned in the Quinnipiac survey said the president does not deserve a second term compared to 41 percent who believe he does.

Florida's 29 electoral votes are the most of any state considered to be a swing state in the 2012 general election.