As I’ve cautioned before, early election polls are not very predictive of election outcomes. The polls shift very quickly, and they are often based on misinformation ( e.g., Sarah Palin would run for president). The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll makes this abundantly clear:

In April, Donald Trump was rising to challenge the front-runner. In June, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was in second place with 14% and businessman Herman Cain was just behind with 12%. Now, Ms. Bachmann has 16%, up from 3% in June, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — still undecided about running — comes in third with 11%.

Mitt Romney remains the leader for now. Maybe that’s an accurate gauge of his popularity, or perhaps he still benefits because other candidates are less well known. In any event, he hasn’t crumbled, as many expected he would once the RomneyCare criticisms surfaced. But it is equally true that there is no sign that Cain (5%), Rick Santorum (3%) Tim Pawlenty (2%) or Jon Huntsman (2%) have yet caught on.

It’s become a cliche, as truisms have a habit of doing. But it really is the case that polls are snapshots in time. It doesn’t mean they have no impact. Certainly, Bachmann can’t be dismissed as a minor player, and Pawlenty is in danger of losing whatever credibility and donor interest he had as he does no better than the most mocked candidate in the race (Huntsman).

A final note: Perry is smart to put off his entry into the race. He has a lot to lose in Ames, Iowa, if he appears to be competing seriously there but is bested by Bachmann. She has momentum and new respect among the chattering class. The last thing Perry needs is a mediocre showing to suck the oxygen out of a campaign that, for now, looks competitive but commanding.