Early national presidential primary polls are, at best, rough indicators of who will eventually become the party's standard-bearer. But the Republican primary field is especially scattered heading into the 2016 cycle, which is one reason why Jeb Bush's recent moves toward a candidacy are getting so much attention.
In fact, the GOP field is more scattered at this stage in GOP primaries since at least 1987, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The table below looks back at early Post-ABC surveys in the past five open Republican primary contests.
A few findings help give a sense of just how uncertain Republicans are in their current views:
1. Nine Republican candidates garner at least 5 percent support, several more than in past cycles (it was five in early 2011 and 1987).
2. Mitt Romney is on top, but his 20 percent support is quite a bit smaller than past leaders (2012 being an exception). Given that he appears unlikely to run again, the poll asked Romney supporters who they'd support instead. His supporters split between Bush, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and others, leaving an even-more-dispersed field.
3. Look across the first few rows, and you'll see many household names of American politics. Name recognition plays a big role in early voter preferences, but as the tale of Mayor Rudy Giuliani teaches, this can evaporate quickly with poor performances in early contests.
4. And lastly, each eventual victor in the past five cycles has at least been in the mix of top candidates at this stage. Both father and son Bush were clear favorites, but Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney were among the candidates with the most support in recent cycles. Having clear support early does not assure victory, but it's not a bad thing either.
Of course, given so many candidates are so tightly packed this year, it's quite possible the 2016 GOP nominee isn't in the top three right now.