OCTOBER 2008 REALLY WASN’T THAT LONG AGO…. Given mistaken public impressions, it’s sometimes hard to know how President Obama’s approval rating is as high as it is.

In numerous polls, the public has voiced their displeasure at the much maligned bank bailout, but most don’t know which president signed the controversial act into law. Only a third of Americans (34%) correctly say the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was enacted by the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly believe TARP was passed under President Obama. […]

Notably, there is no partisan divide on the question. Just 36% of Republicans, 35% of independents and 34% of Democrats know that the government bailout of banks and financial institutions was signed into law by former President Bush. And Democrats (46%) are just as likely as Republicans (50%) to say TARP was passed under Obama.

I can only assume that with so much criticism of the financial industry rescue coming from the right, the larger public concludes it must have been Obama’s idea. After all, the theory goes, would so many Republican activists be this angry about a Republican proposal?

As a factual matter, yes. For the record, the Wall Street bailout passed in October 2008. It was requested by a conservative Republican administration (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney). It was enthusiastically endorsed by the House Republican leadership (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Roy Blunt), the Senate Republican leadership (Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl), both members of the Republican presidential ticket (John McCain and Sarah Palin), and assorted, high-profile conservative voices (Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck).

Noting the poll, published by Pew Research, Dave Weigel added yesterday, “[H]ere’s a reminder that voters don’t really know why they’re so angry. If a pollster asked people to differentiate between TARP, which shoveled money to banks that we’ll get back (perhaps), and the stimulus, which shoveled money to states and taxpayers (sort of), I bet he’d find a complete muddle.”

Agreed. But it’s this confusion that undermines the discourse, makes voters susceptible to demagoguery and bogus attack ads, and encourages Republicans to exploit Americans’ short memories.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.