The 2016 US election might be a full three and a half years away, but that is not stopping pollsters from asking voters who has the early presidential edge. And the advantage goes to Hillary Clinton.
The recently retired secretary of state and former first lady would handily defeat any of three leading potential Republican candidates, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Quinnipiac University poll said Thursday.
The blunt-talking Christie came in second in the poll, well ahead of fellow Republicans Marco Rubio, a first-term senator from Florida, and congressman Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012.
"Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton would start a 2016 presidential campaign with enormous advantages," said the polling institute's assistant director Peter Brown.
"She obviously is by far the best known, and her more than 20 years in the public spotlight allows her to create a very favorable impression on the American people."
Clinton topped Christie 45-37 percent in the poll, bested Ryan 50-38 and trounced Rubio, seen as a Republican rising star, 50-34 percent.
But Christie, who was recently snubbed when he was not invited to the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference, outperformed the other two Democrats in the poll, edging Vice President Joe Biden 43-40 percent and comfortably topping New York Governor Andrew Cuomo 45-28.
"Although some Republicans don't think... Christie is conservative enough for their taste, he runs best of the three Republicans tested," Brown said.
"He obviously is doing better than... Cuomo, despite other indications of anti-Republican sentiment."
Clinton, 65, is the early frontrunner in part because of her ability to attract independent voters.
She tied Christie 36-36 percent among independents, whereas Biden trails Christie 44-32 percent and Cuomo is in the cellar among independents, losing to Christie 47-20.
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,944 registered voters by fixed and mobile telephone, and its poll has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.
Early last month the same institute released a poll showing Clinton was the most popular political figure in America, well ahead of President Barack Obama, who beat her in the 2008 Democratic primary.
Clinton, a former US senator, has said she has no plans to re-enter politics and run for the White House in 2016, saying she wants to rest after two decades in the public spotlight, catch up on reading and spend time with her family.