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Trump Maintains National Lead Heading Into South Carolina

With contests now having been held in two states, the most recent NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll finds some slight shifts in the national standings of the Republican candidates.
Image: Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump flashes thumbs up after an address to a group of supporters at a campaign stop at the Flynn Center of the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vt., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)Charles Krupa / AP

With contests in two states completed, the most recent NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll finds some slight shifts in the national standings of the Republican candidates. This week’s tracking poll finds Marco Rubio dropping 3 points and John Kasich rising 4 points to a two-month high of 7 points.

In the New Hampshire primary, which took place during the period the poll was being conducted, Kasich finished in second place behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz came in third, and Rubio finished in fifth.

Although Trump maintains his lead nationally headed into this week, he will face a different test among a more evangelical and conservative electorate in South Carolina on Feb. 20. These results are according to the latest from the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll conducted online of 13,139 adults, including 11,417 registered voters.

Trump’s second place finish in Iowa behind Cruz and his subsequent solid victory in New Hampshire last Tuesday has caused a sizable shift in Republican voters’ perception of who will win the eventual nomination. Fifty-six percent of Republican voters now believe that Trump will be the eventual nominee, up from about 4 in 10 (42 percent) a week ago. Trump seemed to benefit from voters’ diminished expectations of Rubio and Cruz, as Rubio dropped 8 points, and Cruz dropped 9 points in Republican expectations.

The Republican field now faces a more conservative and evangelical electorate in South Carolina on Feb. 20 than in New Hampshire. On Friday, presidential hopefuls Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Rubio and Cruz attended the South Carolina Faith and Family Presidential Forum in Greenville, in an effort to reach out to evangelical voters.

Our most recent poll results found, however, that among white evangelicals, Trump continues to lead the Republican pack. Trump holds a smaller lead over Cruz among white evangelicals than among the general population of Republican primary voters — his margin shrinks to 9 points from 20 points.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters who identify as very conservative, the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Tracking Poll has shown Cruz and Trump battling for a plurality of support in the past month nationally. Results from the most recent week show that Cruz currently has more support among very conservative voters, but this gap has diminished following the New Hampshire results to give Cruz just a 3-point edge.

Although the moderate political climate of New Hampshire helped Kasich finish solidly in second place, South Carolina and Nevada are traditionally more conservative than both Iowa and New Hampshire. While other candidates have tried to call out Trump’s lack of religiosity and harsh language as reasons why he is an unsuitable candidate, Trump appears to have a surge of momentum that he hopes will secure him more delegates in South Carolina and Nevada during the next week.

The NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll was conducted online from February 8, 2016 through February 14, 2016 among a national sample of 13,129 adults aged 18 and over, including 11,417 who say they are registered to vote. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Results have an error estimate of plus or minus 1.1 percentage points. A full description of our methodology and the poll can be found here.