If voters get to choose between Republican Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, a new national poll suggests the race would be too close to call.

Both Romney and Obama had the support of 45 percent of respondents to a new Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday.

The public opinion polling company asked 1,000 likely voters nationwide on July 18 and 19 whether they would vote for Romney or Obama if the 2012 presidential election were held today.

The telephone survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Utah's top pollster, Dan Jones, said that so early in the election cycle, such polls are "somewhat guesswork, but it's still an indicator. I would be very surprised if we had an election and it would be that close."

Jones said the poll results say more about how Americans view Obama than a potential GOP challenger.

"It shows there are people who are discouraged with the (president's) economic package and especially with the direction America is going," Jones said. Still, he said, the poll "will be very, very encouraging to the Romney people."

The results should give both Romney and the GOP a boost, said Kelly Patterson, the director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

"Gov. Romney can take a lot of heart from this because the Republican Party has gone through a very difficult stretch," Patterson said. "The fact that any Republican candidate is that close to Obama at this point is good news for the Republican Party."

And Romney, considered a "favorite son" candidate by Utahns because of his Mormon faith and leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, may be in an especially good position to take advantage of the GOP's well-publicized struggles.

"He has a national profile and he hasn't been involved in any controversies lately. That's pretty helpful for him," Patterson said. "He's seen in some respects as the leader of the opposition."

The same survey also asked who voters would pick if the choice was between outgoing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's vice-presidential nominee in 2008, and Obama.

In that match-up, the president would win with the support of 48 percent of respondents compared to 42 percent for Palin.

And Palin would also lose if she ran as an independent in 2012 against Romney and Obama, the poll found. In that scenario, Obama would win with 44 percent of the vote and Romney would end up with 33 percent.

The GOP, already hurt by Arizona Sen. John McCain's loss to Obama last year, is struggling both to redefine itself to better appeal to voters and to overcome high-profile scandals among their ranks, such as the marital infidelities of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Sen. John Ensign.

Palin has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for announcing earlier this month she was quitting before her term as governor ends without detailing her future plans.

Neither Romney nor Palin has declared they're running in 2012 although both are seen as likely candidates. Romney came in second in the 2008 race for the GOP nomination.

Poll developments

 A new Rasmussen poll shows respondents evenly split if an election were held between President Barack Obama and potential presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

 The Rasmussen poll shows that in an Obama vs. Sarah Plain election, the president would get 48 percent support to 42 percent for Palin.

 A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows Obama with his lowest approval rating since taking office six months ago — 55 percent.