Donald Trump retakes lead in GOP race; Ted Cruz makes gains: poll

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In the Republican primary race, the newest NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll shows Donald Trump has the frontrunner spot to himself, with 28% support among Republican and independent voters who lean Republican. Support for Ben Carson, who was tied with Trump in last month's online poll, has fallen off by 8 points and the former neurosurgeon is now tied with Ted Cruz at 18%. Trailing not too far behind is Marco Rubio, at 11%. The next tier of candidates has a lot of catching up to do, with Jeb Bush at 4% and Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina each with 3%.

During the volatile primary season, the attention that is gained from being the lead candidate in the polls can be a mixed blessing. The media tends to shift its focus to those candidates leading the race - and that spotlight can seem especially harsh to those who are newer to the political scene. At the same time, rival candidates are quick to target any apparent or imagined flaw of those in the lead. This is what happened to Ben Carson during the last two weeks, as he came under scrutiny for biographical details in his memoir and criticism for his lack of foreign policy expertise.

Carson and the other Republican candidates still have more than two months before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary to gain traction. Looking at a number of subgroups may offer some clues as to how the early contests could go. The NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll was conducted nationwide of 5,775 adults, including 2,440 Republican and Republican-leaning voters, which allows for us to look at key voting blocs.

Ben Carson is still the preferred candidate of 25% of white evangelicals, but Donald Trump (23%) and Ted Cruz (22%) have clearly eaten away at what used to be the main pillar of Carson support. Among those who identify as very conservative, Ted Cruz now has the highest level of support, with 40%, overtaking both Carson (15%) and Trump (28%).

Carson has also seen his backing erode among both men and women, and their vote preferences are now being diverted to other candidates.

Among those with college degrees or more, the Republican race is utterly divided, with Trump, Carson, Cruz and Rubio getting nearly equal levels of support. Trump has regained his lead among leaned Republican voters with high school degrees or less. And Ted Cruz has made gains among all these groups in the last month.

See more from Friday's GOP forum:

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Donald Trump retakes lead in GOP race; Ted Cruz makes gains: poll
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Republican presidential candidates (LtoR) Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) chat following the Presidential Family Forum on November 20, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendance at the event was lower than organizers had hoped as an early-winter snowstorm moved through the area dumping several inches of snow on the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Moderator Frank Luntz ( 5th from L) introduces Republican presidential candidates (LtoR) Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum at the Presidential Family forum on November 20, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendance at the event was lower than organizers had hoped as an early-winter snowstorm moved through the area dumping several inches of snow on the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Immigrant rights protestors raise a banner after jumping a security barricade at the Presidential Family forum as Republican presidential candidates (L to R) Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, watch on November 20, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendance at the event was lower than organizers had hoped as an early-winter snowstorm moved through the area dumping several inches of snow on the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Republican presidential candidates (LtoR) Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), attend the Presidential Family Forum on November 20, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendance at the event was lower than organizers had hoped as an early-winter snowstorm moved through the area dumping several inches of snow on the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Immigrant rights protestors raise a banner after jumping a security barricade at the Presidential Family forum as Republican presidential candidates (L to R) Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Carly Fiorina and moderator Frank Luntz watch on November 20, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendance at the event was lower than organizers had hoped as an early-winter snowstorm moved through the area dumping several inches of snow on the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee (2nd from R) and Carly Fiorina (R) listen as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Presidential Family forum on November 20, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendance at the event was lower than organizers had hoped as an early-winter snowstorm moved through the area dumping several inches of snow on the city. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during the Presidential Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, speaks during the Presidential Family Forum as Ben Carson listens, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina speaks during the Presidential Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., stands on stage during the Presidential Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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