WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Businessman Herman Cain now leads the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, while former front-runner Rick Perry has dropped to third, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday.
Cain, who has never held elective office, was the first choice of 27 percent of Republican voters, followed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 23 percent and Perry at 16 percent, the poll found.
The Texas governor's support fell from 38 percent in the previous poll in late August. In the earlier poll, Cain was at only 5 percent and Romney was at 23 percent.
After entering the race on August 13, Perry soared to the top of the field of candidates vying to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election. His support began sliding after his initial performances in Republican debates and Cain's upset victory in the Florida straw poll last month.
Among the rest of the field, Texas Representative Ron Paul was in fourth place at 11 percent, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8 percent, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann at 5 percent and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman at 3 percent.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults was conducted from Thursday to Monday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.10 percentage points.
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney)