Thirty-two economists said they expect Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen to succeed Chairman Ben Bernanke next year. Four predicted Obama will nominate Larry Summers, his former economic adviser and President Clinton's Treasury secretary.
The survey was done last week amid a flurry of media reports suggesting that the field was narrowing to a choice between Yellen and Summers or that Summers was the front-runner.
The White House has said only that a decision will be made in the fall. In an interview with The New York Times published over the weekend, Obama said he has narrowed his choice to "some extraordinary candidates." Treasury Secretary Jack Lew declined to express a preference in an interview on ABC's This Week on Sunday.
Yellen is "extremely well-qualified and she's been there through the (financial) crisis," says Diane Swonk, chief economist of Mesirow Financial. "We need continuity."
Vincent Reinhart, chief U.S. economist of Morgan Stanley and former head of monetary affairs at the Fed, thinks Obama will pick Summers.
"The president really has tended to reward loyalty," Reinhart says, "and Summers has that history with the president that Yellen doesn't."
The presumptive horse race between Yellen and Summers to be the nation's top economist has transfixed Washington in a uneventful political summer even though the White House says a nominee won't be announced until fall.
After reports last week that Summers may be emerging as the favorite, Senate Democrats began a petition in support of Yellen and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed her in a Bloomberg Television interview. "It would be great to have a woman," Pelosi said.
Bernanke hasn't said whether he plans to step down when his second four-year term ends in January, but his departure is widely expected.
The Fed chairman is the most influential voice on a policymaking committee that can speed up or slow down U.S. economic growth by lowering or raising interest rates, among other moves that ripple across the global economy.
Obama likely would relish the opportunity to nominate the first female Fed chief, says Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS. Read more: