Most Americans now see a 2008-style financial crisis on the horizon, and —reflecting the deep partisan divide in the country —there is no consensus about whether a second term for President Obama or a Republican administration would improve the rough economic situation, according to a new Washington Post-Bloomberg News poll.

Republicans, for their part, are not conflicted: nearly two-thirds are confident the economy would be better under a GOP president and sense their own financial situations would improve with a Republican win in 2012. Democrats are less sure the economy is better under Obama’s leadership, and most independents say it would not make much difference one way or the other.

The findings come a day before the Post and Bloomberg News host a Republican debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, focused exclusively on the economy.

Most Republicans see a GOP candidate as clearly better than Obama on the economy -- by far the top issue in the campaign -- but when it comes to picking their party’s best candidate to rev up the stagnant economy there is little agreement.

In the new poll, some 22 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would do the most to improve the economy, and 20 percent say so of businessman Herman Cain, who has jumped into the top tier in recent polls.

One in eight (12 percent) say Texas Gov. Rick Perry would do the best job to improve the economy, with none of the other top candidates cracking double-digits on the question. A sizable 22 percent express no opinion.

These numbers come on the heels of polls showing Perry slumping and Cain surging in the race for the Republican nomination. In terms of voter preference, Romney has consistently been at or near the top of the field.

Among conservative Republicans, Cain has a numerical (but not significant) edge in the new poll on the economy question, with 26 percent saying he is the best candidate to improve the economy to Romney’s 23 percent. Romney has about a 2 to 1 lead over any other candidate among moderate and liberal Republicans. The former Massachusetts governor also breaks away from the pack among seniors.

For one top candidate, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, more Republicans say she would do the most to damage the economy than say she would be the one to improve things more than others.

Most Republicans see another financial crisis as at least “fairly likely” over the next couple of years. Overall, the number of Americans seeing a possible meltdown ahead has jumped 10 percentage points since March 2010.

Despite widespread public criticism of Obama’s handling of the economy, nearly half of all Americans -- 45 percent -- say it wouldn’t make a difference if a Republican were in office at this time. Just as many say the economy would be worse under a GOP leader as say it would be better. A plurality also says the outcome of the 2012 presidential election won’t make much difference to their own pocketbooks.

Big majorities of Republicans say the economy would be better now under GOP stewardship and their own finances would pick up under a Republican administration starting in 2013. Under half of Democrats are sure things are better under Obama than they would be with a Republican at the helm; almost as many say it won’t make a difference.

As far as independents go, both sides have convincing to do: a clear majority of political independents say the economy would be no better or worse with a Republican president, and nearly six in 10 don’t think the outcome of the presidential election will have a big effect on their own personal fortunes.

But first up is the Republican primary.

Looking ahead to the end of the primary season, 24 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaners say they want Romney to be the party’s candidate to challenge Obama. Some 16 percent say they would like Cain to be atop the GOP ticket, and 13 percent say Perry. These numbers are in-line with the latest measures of actual vote choice in the latest Post-ABC national poll.

The new Post-Bloomberg News telephone poll was conducted Oct. 6 to 9, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. Results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. A total of 391 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents were interviewed, and the error margin for this group is six points.

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