We’re two years away from the start of the 2016 primary season … or at least we hope we are.  That makes polling for the presidential nomination in either party somewhat of a parlor game, as changes in fortunes for current policies and positions are almost sure to significantly impact the potential attractiveness of candidates in what should be — Joe Biden notwithstanding — another 2008-like wide open presidential fight in both parties.  Quinnipiac’s initial test of the 2016 waters on the GOP side shows no front-runners, but also a subtle change in recent Republican patterns:

There is no front-runner now for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, leaving a five- way horse race with no candidate above 19 percent among Republican voters, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie, who ran better than other Republicans against top Democrats in a March 7 survey of all American voters by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University, gets only 14 percent of Republican voters today.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gets 19 percent of Republican voters, with 17 percent for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, 15 percent for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and 10 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Other contenders are at 3 percent or less.

Notice anything interesting in that group of five early leaders? None of them ran for the Republican presidential nomination for the 2012 cycle. Ryan ended up as Mitt Romney’s running mate, but never tossed his hat into the ring for the top job, nor was considered a serious contender. That’s a remarkable change in a pattern that goes back at least to 1980, when Republican runners-up in the previous open cycle ended up as the frontrunners in the next. Ronald Reagan got the nomination in 1980 after barely losing to Gerald Ford in the 1976 race; his running mate, George H. W. Bush, won the nomination in 1988. Bob Dole had nearly derailed Bush in 1988’s primary with wins in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and in 1996 got his chance to face incumbent Bill Clinton and spoiler Ross Perot. George W. Bush broke the pattern in 2000, but the runner-up in that contest, John McCain, ended up winning the 2008 nomination. And Romney was the runner-up to McCain, and was a clear front-runner for most of the 2012 primary cycle before winning the nomination.

This time around, none of the 2012 contenders made the cut for the Q-poll, and it doesn’t appear they were missed. Only 1% of respondents selected “someone else” as a choice, although 18% said they either didn’t know or didn’t care. Except for Jeb Bush, who got 10% to finish fifth, everyone on the list is a recent national figure — even the three who finished in the also-ran category, Bobby Jindal (3%), Scott Walker (2%), and Bob McDonnell (1%).

Ironically, only two governors were among the five to make double digits (Bush and Christie) and they came in fourth and fifth, even though GOP respondents overwhelmingly prefer governors as presidential candidates, 59/23. This reflects the problems of polling so early, before anyone has made serious moves to campaign for the position. The results sound more like a name-recognition survey than a serious reflection on preferred presidential candidates.

Also, Quinnipiac shows Barack Obama’s approval rating dropping to 49/45, down from 53/40 in December but up slightly from last month’s 45/46. He’s underwater among independents 44/46 and men 42/51, as well as middle-income voters at 46/51. More than two-thirds (69%) are dissatisfied with the direction of the nation, but that’s been fairly constant for a year or more.