Fifty-one percent of voters surveyed by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion said they would rather have Spitzer in charge, despite the prostitution scandal that drove him from office last year.
Thirty-eight percent backed Paterson and 11 percent weren't sure.
Spitzer has denied rumors that he plans to run for public office next year, though he has granted news interviews recently to discuss Wall Street regulation.
Paterson, elected as lieutenant governor with Spitzer in 2006, has said he will run in 2010.
Spitzer, once a crusading state attorney general, was favored among all demographic groups and regions.
Among Democrats statewide, 50 percent say "resurrect Spitzer," pollster Lee Miringoff said yesterday.
He added that Paterson received low marks for leadership, tackling the economic crisis and understanding people's needs.
The only bright spot was 46 percent approved of his handling of the swine flu outbreak.
The poll of 1,029 registered voters, conducted April 28-29, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
If a hypothetical Democratic gubernatorial primary were held today, Paterson would lose to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, 21 percent to 70 percent.
Asked about his low job approval numbers, the governor said, "In this time of a great deal of fear and a rising climate of anxiety, I don't blame the public for how they feel. I'm just going to work hard so that this state is in good fiscal condition next year and perhaps people will feel differently."