Trump, Clinton extend leads in 2016 race, poll says
Republican Candidate Donald Trump, pictured November 30 2015 with Ohio pastor Darrell Scott (R), has extended his lead in the race for his party's nomination, drawing 27-percent support according to a poll released December 2 (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

Donald Trump has extended his lead in the Republican presidential nomination race amid a fresh bout of controversy over his remarks about Muslims, while Hillary Clinton has consolidated her lead among Democrats, a poll showed Wednesday.

Less than two months before the first state-wide votes to determine the presidential nominees, Trump was his party's undisputed leader, backed by 27 percent of registered Republican voters, while his closest challenger for months, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, has faded to third place, according to the Quinnipiac University survey.

Freshman Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has surged into second with 17 percent, while Carson is tied for third with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas at 16 percent. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush languishes in fifth place with five percent, while no other candidate is above three percent.

Quinnipiac conducted its poll last week. Its Republican figures have a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points; the error margin for the Democratic polling is 4.1 percentage points.

Trump has faced fierce criticism for several remarks he has made in recent weeks, including saying "thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center collapsed in the 9/11 attacks of 2001, a claim that has been widely debunked.

"It doesn't seem to matter what he says or who he offends, whether the facts are contested or the 'political correctness' is challenged, Donald Trump seems to be wearing Kevlar," Quinnipiac assistant poll director Tim Malloy said in a news release detailing the results.

Trump, who was at 24 percent one month ago, has topped nearly all Republican polls since July.

Among registered Democratic voters, Clinton has risen to 60 percent support, double the backing of her nearest rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, at 30 percent, according to Quinnipiac.

Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley registers just two percent in the much smaller Democratic field.

Clinton, bolstered by Vice President Joe Biden's decision not to seek the nomination, has appeared more confident on the campaign trail.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has sought to seduce voters on the left, but his campaign, which soared in the summer, appears to have come down to Earth and is plodding along with little gain against Clinton.

The first state-wide vote in the primary process to determine the parties' nominees occurs in Iowa on February 1, followed by New Hampshire on February 9.