Yes, the 2016 nomination contests have already begun.

Hillary Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton, with her daughter, Chelsea (Melina Mara / The Washington Post)

But, no, there’s really no point in looking at way-too-early polling about those elections. Early polls mostly measure name recognition, even when we’re only a few months away from the Iowa caucuses; three years out from those events, we can’t even begin to guess which candidates will make it that far, let alone what anyone will think of them.

Hey, reporters: if you want to follow the invisible primary, focus on what key party actors are saying about the candidates. Which Republican candidates meet the tests of the Club for Growth or anti-abortion groups? Which Democratic candidates have made a positive impression on activists, especially those in the early primary and caucus states? 

Cover the substance, too: What issues are going to be litmus tests on each side? Is there a particular climate position that all Democrats must take in order to be competitive, just as all Democrats in 2008 were pushed to sign on to what eventually became the Affordable Care Act? Are there policy conflicts between different groups, or between organized groups and activists, which might be eventually settled on the campaign trail?

Those are the sorts of things that really are happening this early. Polls? They measure what voters think, and those whose only involvement in politics is voting certainly have not begun thinking about their far-off participation in the process, and so the answers voter surveys will get will be nothing more than junk. 

In other words: Reporters should be covering the campaign that’s actually happening, and they should cover it properly.