Polling snapshot: The calm before the votes

'Inside Politics' Forecast
'Inside Politics' Forecast


    'Inside Politics' Forecast


'Inside Politics' Forecast 04:19

(CNN)Tonight, the first ballots of the 2016 presidential contest will be counted in Iowa, and they will inevitably have an impact on polls conducted in the days to come, either by reinforcing the trends that have already taken shape or by reframing the entire contest. Before the Hawkeye State's hardy caucus-goers have their say, let's take a look at where things stand in the race for the presidency in Iowa and in New Hampshire -- the next state to get a turn in the primary spotlight.

In Iowa, A steady lead for Trump, a shift for the Democrats

The contours of both parties' contests in Iowa have suggested a tight race in recent weeks, but the most recent polling of likely caucus-goers suggests trends that tilt in favor of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
According to the most recent CNN Poll of Polls averages in Iowa, released today night, Trump continues to hold a lead over Ted Cruz, while recent polling of the Democratic race suggests Hillary Clinton now holds a slim 3-point edge over rival Bernie Sanders, a shift from a 1-point Sanders edge in a Poll of Polls released last month.
    The most eagerly awaited addition to the slate of Iowa polls, the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Poll, found Trump in the lead for the first time in that poll's trend line, and showed Clinton with a 3-point edge over Sanders.
    That poll also suggested that those Iowans likely to participate in the Democratic caucus would generally be happy with either Clinton or Sanders at the top of the Democratic ticket come November. Both merit deeply positive favorability ratings from the pool of likely participants, 81% had a favorable view of Clinton, 82% Sanders, and about 7 in 10 say they would be enthusiastic about either candidate should they become the party's nominee.
    On the Republican side, however, the Bloomberg/Register poll suggested a different story. Only about half had a positive impression of field-leader Trump, 65% had a positive take on Cruz, and less than half said they would enthusiastically back Trump should he become the party's nominee. Should Trump win the caucuses tonight, the nomination race's outcome seems to rest on whether an anti-Trump vote could coalesce around a single candidate.

    In New Hampshire, the muddy middle remains

    There is one common theme emerging in New Hampshire polling: Both sides appear to have a clear leader. Both Trump and Sanders have comfortable leads over their respective fields, but the results of Monday's caucuses could lead to a shake-up in what has seemed like a fairly stable contest.
    New CNN Poll of Polls averages in New Hampshire find Sanders well ahead of Clinton in the first primary state of the 2016 nomination race, 55% to 37%. Those figures are unchanged from the previous CNN Poll of Polls there, released Wednesday. On the Republican side, the new Poll of Polls finds Trump at 31%, Cruz 13%, Rubio 11%, Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 10%, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 8% and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 7%.
    Trump's lead in New Hampshire shows little sign of abating, but as in Iowa, recent polling there suggests a sizable chunk of the electorate has doubts about him as the party's standard bearer. The new CNN/WMUR Poll there, released Sunday night, found that among likely primary voters who consider themselves moderate or liberal, few have made up their minds about whom to support, and nearly half have ruled out the possibility of supporting Trump. Those two factors suggest a moderate candidate who posts a strong showing in Iowa could potentially gain support in New Hampshire from this less-committed moderate pool of voters, who typically make up nearly half of GOP primary voters there.
    New Hampshire voters frequently make up their minds in the final days of the contest -- according to exit polls there in 2012, 46% of Republican voters said they made their decision in the last few days, as did 38% of Democratic voters in 2008 - so the results in polls right now are by no means the final word on the race.