Yesterday, Joe Biden caused a big stir when he acknowledged that the 2012 election is likely to be a referendum on the Obama administration’s handling of the economy. Biden noted that a majority of Americans think Bush tanked the economy, but said this was “not relevant.”

Today brings a new CNN poll that confirms Biden’s assessment of public opinion is accurate:

Do you think the policies of Barack Obama and the Democrats or George W. Bush and the Republicans are more responsible for the country’s current economic problems?

Obama and Democrats: 32

Bush and Republicans: 52

Independents blame Bush and Republicans over Obama and Democrats, 51-26, and moderates blame Bush and Republicans by 60-23.

This is why Biden said what he said. The White House is in a bit of a tricky political spot when it comes to the former president. Obama’s team knows that Americans already blame Bush more than Obama for our current mess, but they assume Americans don’t want to hear Obama telling them who they should blame. And no, despite what some on the right keep saying, Obama does not regularly invoke Bush for the purpose of ducking blame himself. When Obama talks about the challenges he inherited, he’s pleading with the public to appreciate the scale of the problems we face, and how long they were in the making. He’s asking the public for patience.

That said, I continue to think that conservatives are right when they assert that the public’s blame towards Bush may not be particularly relevant in 2012. Indeed, despite the public’s belief that GOP policies are far more responsible than Democratic ones for our economic problems, a new Gallup survey out today finds that Americans give Republicans the edge on which party is most likely to keep America prosperous, 48-39.

Biden was just stating the obvious: A majority of Americans thinks Bush and GOP policies are responsible for our mess, but they hired Obama to clean up that mess, and will judge him in 2012 based in no small part on the progress he made towards completing the chore Bush dumped in his lap. Biden was right on both counts. And his acknowledgment that Obama now owns the economy doesn’t change the fact that the public knows full well who broke it.