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George W. Bush and Mitt Romney in 2002 photo
"Don't worry George, I've got your back"
(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Washington Post/ABC News. May 17-20. Adults. ±3.5%. (1/15/12 results)
Who do you think is more responsible for the country's current economic problems—Barack Obama or George W. Bush?

Bush: 49 (54)
Obama: 34 (29)
Both: 8 (9)

What do you think is the bigger problem in this country—unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?

Unfairness: 56 (55)
Over-regulation: 34 (35)
Both: 5 (5)

President Obama leads the horserace in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll by a narrow 49-46 margin over Mitt Romney, a tightening from Obama's 7-point edge in April. Beyond the top line numbers, however, the two questions posted above suggest he is in very good shape when it comes to the core arguments about the economy.

First, even though it's been nearly four years since George W. Bush left office, voters are still much more likely to blame him for the country's economic problems than they are to blame President Obama. Second, voters believe unfairness is a bigger economic problem than government excess.

The reason why this is good for President Obama and bad for Mitt Romney is obvious; President Obama's campaign theme is about moving forward from the mess Bush created towards an economy in which everyone has a fair shot and in which hard work and playing by the rules is rewarded with success.

Mitt Romney's problem is equally obvious: he claims his ideas are new, but they are actually straight out of the Bush trickle-down playbook, and Americans don't want to return to that. And instead of focusing on the unfairness of our economic system, Romney's message is that government has gotten too big. And the approach Obama's reelection campaign is taking to its attacks on Bain underscores the fact that Romney represents the economic unfairness that Americans reject.

Of course, these aren't the only factors in the campaign, and much will depend on how successfully President Obama's campaign helps connect the dots. But for the large majority of voters who rank the economy first, on two of the central questions of the campaign, the playing field is heavily tilted towards the president.

Originally posted to The Jed Report on Tue May 22, 2012 at 06:39 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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