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Republicans' Donald Trump problem just got worse

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump was supposed to flame out fast. Instead, he's burning ever hotter in the first contests of the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

The real estate mogul and reality TV star has a 7-point lead over his nearest competitor in New Hampshire, and he's breathing down the neck of longtime Iowa caucuses leader Scott Walker, according to two NBC/Marist University polls released Sunday morning.

It's still very early in the 2016 campaign, and the first Republican debate on August 6 in Cleveland could shake up the race, but Trump's surprising success suggests he will continue to be a significant force in the GOP primary.

Here are the surveys' key findings about the state of the Republican race, according to interviews with registered voters in Iowa and New Hampshire:

  1. Scott Walker remains in the pole position in Iowa, with 19 percent of Republican saying he's their candidate. But Trump, who has lagged him by 8 or 9 percentage points in each of the last three polls taken in Iowa, now trails Walker by just 2 percentage points at 17 percent.
  2. Trump's favorability rating is right side up with Republicans. For all the hand-wringing of GOP leaders in Washington — and national polling that shows Trump is viewed unfavorably by most Americans — 45 percent of registered Iowa Republicans rate him favorably, compared with 44 percent who see him unfavorably. The other top GOP candidates all have favorable ratings above 50 percent and unfavorable ratings below 20 percent in Iowa.
  3. Trump appears to be bleeding support mostly from the bottom tiers of candidates, as Jeb Bush, at 12 percent, is the only other hopeful in double digits in Iowa. That is, Trump seems to be consolidating a lot of the anti-establishment vote.
  4. The turf in New Hampshire is even more fertile ground for Trump. He's supplanted Bush as the favorite in the "Live Free or Die" state. Trump checked in with 21 percent of registered New Hampshire Republicans, leaving Bush at 14 percent and Walker at 12 percent, in the dust.
  5. It's the first time Trump has been in the lead in New Hampshire, and the first time Bush hasn't been in first place, either alone or in a statistical tie, since April.

Most voters in Iowa and New Hampshire don't like Hillary Clinton, but the vast majority of Democrats do

Hillary Clinton is far better liked by Democrats in the two states than any of the Republicans are by GOP voters. But among the overall electorate, her favorability ratings are flagging in Iowa and New Hampshire. While the polls suggest that it will be difficult for Bernie Sanders or any other Democrat to supplant her in either of the first two nominating contests, she has her work cut out for her in trying to win the swing states in a general election.

Here are the major findings on the Democratic side:

  1. Clinton leads Sanders 55 percent to 26 percent in Iowa and 47 percent to 34 percent in New Hampshire in matchups that don't include Vice President Joe Biden.
  2. With Biden added in — pending his decision on whether to run — Clinton leads with 49 percent to Sanders's 25 percent and Biden's 10 percent in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Clinton's lead over Sanders closes to 42 percent to 32 percent, with Biden at 12 percent.
  3. More important for Clinton, her favorability rating with Democrats remains prohibitively high while Sanders may be approaching a ceiling. Seventy-four percent of registered Iowa Democrats say they view her favorably, while 20 percent see her in an unfavorable light. For Sanders, the split is 51 percent to 15 percent.
  4. Clinton's favorable rating among New Hampshire Democrats is 71 percent. Sanders does much better in New Hampshire, with 65 percent of Democrats there reporting they view him favorably and only 14 percent seeing him unfavorably.
  5. The biggest challenge for Clinton in these two swing states is that she's well below the waterline among the electorate as a whole. In both states, just 37 percent of registered voters rate her as favorable. Nearly identical portions of registered voters see her as unfavorable in Iowa and New Hampshire — 56 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

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