There would appear to be a contradiction in the polls. On the one hand, Americans continue to be deeply unsatisfied with the state of the economy. On the other, President Obama’s approval rating has been pretty stable in the mid- to high-40s.

The key to understanding this is simple — most folks still don’t blame the president for the mess he inherited.

A majority of Americans believe that former President George W. Bush is more responsible than President Obama for the current economic problems in the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said that Bush was more to blame while 29 percent put the blame on Obama; 9 percent said both men deserved blame while 6 percent said neither did. Among registered voters, the numbers are almost identical; 54 percent blame Bush, while 30 percent blame Obama.

Independents, widely considered the most critical voting bloc this fall, continue to blame Bush far more than Obama for the economic troubles. Fifty-seven percent of unaffiliated voters put the blame on the former Republican president, while 25 percent believe the blame rests more with Obama.

Heck, even one in five Republicans say Bush is more responsible than Obama for the state of the economy!

Every time I’ve mentioned this in months passed, there’s an uptick in angry emails from Republicans who simply don’t believe the polls on this. I can appreciate a healthy degree of skepticism as much as the next guy, but the polling on this has been remarkably consistent for a long while.

This may not matter, at least far as electoral considerations are concerned. Americans were inclined to blame Bush for the economy in 2010, too, and if memory serves, GOP candidates did pretty well anyway. Voters may well conclude that Obama isn’t to blame for the mess, but they’re not satisfied with the speed with which he’s cleaning it up.

But when given a choice, the American mainstream hasn’t completely forgotten who created the mess in the first place.

What’s more, as long as we’re on the subject of blame, a New York Times/CBS News poll released this morning also found that Americans hold Republicans responsible for the gridlock in Washington. The survey found 60% of the public believes President Obama is “attempting to work with Congressional Republicans to try to accomplish something,” while only 27% say the same about GOP lawmakers. It’s probably why the president’s approval rating is roughly quadruple that of Congress.

Taken together, the American mainstream blames the economy on Bush and the mess in D.C. on congressional Republicans. This probably isn’t how the GOP hoped to start 2012.

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.