After a year of chatter, the political world has finally reached the point at which actual voters will express actual preferences in the presidential race in ways that will actually matter. The Iowa caucuses are four days away; the New Hampshire primary is 12 days away.
On the eve of actual voting, polls can help offer valuable clues about late surges. Never mind what the results showed months ago; what matters now is whether a candidate is closing strong. Plenty of candidates have won Iowa, quickly overcoming significant deficits, and surveys from this stage in the process often let us know which candidates are making gains as voters make up their minds.
So, where do things stand? Let's start with the Hawkeye State, where there are two major new Republican surveys to consider. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll has the race shaping up this way:
1. Donald Trump: 32% (up from 24% in early January)
2. Ted Cruz: 25% (down from 28%)
3. Marco Rubio: 18% (up from 13%)
4. Ben Carson: 8% (down from 11%)
Trump's 32% showing is the strongest support any Republican has had in Iowa from this poll all cycle. The latest results from Monmouth University point in a similar direction.
1. Donald Trump: 30% (up from 19% in December)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (down from 24%)
3. Marco Rubio: 16% (up from 17%)
4. Ben Carson: 10% (down from 13%)
Note, in both of these cases, each of the remaining candidates was below 5%.
It's hard to say with confidence whether Trump voters intend to show up when it counts, and the lingering questions about the efficacy of the candidate's on-the-ground operation matter, but if the polls are correct, there's no question as to who's favored to win on Monday night.
But what about the New Hampshire race nine days later? The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll also shows:
1. Donald Trump: 31% (up from 30% in early January)
2. Ted Cruz: 12% (up from 10%)
3. John Kasich: 11% (up from 9%)
3. Marco Rubio: 11% (down from 14%)
5. Jeb Bush: 8% (down from 9%)
6. Chris Christie: 7% (down from 12%)
Note that Christie, who appeared to be on the upswing a month ago, is now losing steam down the stretch. Kasich's credible showing also stands out: it follows a Boston Herald poll from earlier this week also showing him in third place.
Just 11 days after New Hampshire is the first-in-the-South primary in South Carolina, where the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll has the GOP race shaping up this way:
1. Donald Trump: 36%
2. Ted Cruz: 24%
3. Marco Rubio: 14%
4. Jeb Bush: 9%
5. Ben Carson: 8%
Finally, there's a new Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies poll taking a look at the national landscape.
1. Donald Trump: 34%
2. Marco Rubio: 14%
3. Ted Cruz: 12%
4. Ben Carson: 9%
5. Jeb Bush: 7%
Taken together, it's not hard to figure out which Republican candidate is in a dominant position. When was the last time a presidential hopeful was in this strong of a position, so late in the process, and failed? Never. It's simply never happened.
Either Donald Trump will be the GOP presidential nominee or we'll soon witness the most spectacular collapse in American political history.