WASHINGTON (AFP) - Donald Trump’s wild ride to the front of the Republican presidential field showed no signs of abating Sunday, with a new poll showing him with a big lead in a key early primary state.
The NBC/Marist poll had the trash-talking billionaire with a seven point lead in New Hampshire and just two points behind the leader in Iowa, another closely watched early primary state.
A CNN/ORC poll, meanwhile, found that most Republicans voters want to see him stay in the race and 22 per cent thought he would be their party’s eventual nominee, ahead of every other candidate except Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor whose brother and father were presidents.
The CNN poll put Trump at the front of 16-candidate Republican pack with 18 per cent, and Bush in second with 15 per cent.
“I’m not that surprised, because I see the kind of a crowd we’re getting,” Trump said in a telephone interview with CNN’s State of Union.
“We’re getting the biggest crowds and we’re getting by far the biggest ovations.”
It was the first poll conducted entirely after Trump drew the wrath of other Republican candidates for belittling the Vietnam record of former prisoner of war John McCain, who headed the Republican presidential ticket in 2008 against President Barack Obama.
The controversy surrounding Trump’s “not a war hero” remarks about McCain and earlier inflammatory comments branding Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists appear to have helped the real estate tycoon among the Republican base.
Those who want Trump to stay in the race include 58 percent of white evangelicals, 58 per cent of conservatives and 57 per cent of “Tea Party” supporters, the CNN poll found.
When Republican voters were asked to say who they would most like to see on the debate stage, regardless of who they intended to vote for, 18 per cent said Trump, compared to 14 per cent for Bush and less than 10 per cent each for the rest of the crowded field.
The NBC poll, meanwhile, suggested that Trump at this early stage of the race is making a big splash in the first two primary states, which tend to winnow the field.
It showed him polling 21 per cent among Republican voters in New Hampshire, in first placed although losing some ground to second place Bush, up to 14 per cent. In Iowa, Trump trailed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, by only two points at 17 to 19 per cent.
Trump had surged to the lead in national polls before his remarks about McCain, but the NBC polls show strong standings at the state level as well despite a barrage of attacks by his Republican rivals.
Trump’s negatives remain far higher than other candidates, however. The NBC poll found that 44 per cent of Republican voters in Iowa and 53 per cent of those in New Hampshire had unfavorable opinions about the real estate magnate and reality TV star.