If the 2012 election will be won or lost on the economy, then the latest CBS poll shows that Barack Obama will lose it — badly.  His approval rating on this measure has dropped to the lowest point of his presidency in the CBS series, with only 34% approving and a stunning 60% disapproving.  That’s also after more weighting shenanigans by CBS in the sample, too:

President Obama’s ratings on the the most important issue for his re-election — the economy — have posted the weakest showing of his presidency, according to a poll released Friday by CBS News.

About 60 percent of voters said they disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, the highest on record. Just 34 percent approve of the job he is doing on the matter.

His overall approval ratings are just 43 percent, while 47 percent disapprove of the job he is doing as president.

Among independents, just 39 percent are satisfied with his performance, while 76 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance.

This comes in a weighted sample that has a six-point Democratic advantage, too.  The original survey sample had a D/R/I of 31/29/40, which would have been a better approximation of relative strength among registered voters — although it would have oversampled independents a little too much at the expense of both Democrats and Republicans.   Instead, CBS weighted the results for a D/R/I of 32/26/42, which made the oversampling of independents worse at the explicit expense of Republicans.   Don’t forget that the 2010 turnout model from exit polls showed a D/R/I of 35/35/29, and even the 2008 election that produced a seven-point popular-vote victory for Obama only had a seven-point Democratic turnout advantage.

Even that manipulation doesn’t make the situation any rosier for Obama.  On the economy, though, the sense of failure hangs like the stench coming from the Obamavilles of the Occupy movement:

There appears to be little to look forward to for Mr. Obama and his campaign team.

About 86 percent of respondents think the economy is in bad shape now with just 13 percent who see it in good shape. And just 18 percent see it getting better while 32 percent see it getting worse.

Greg Sargent has a peek at how Team Obama plans to counter, er, reality, but he also tosses a little cold water on the strategy:

So how will Obama rebut the GOP charge that he failed on the economy? I posed the question to one of Obama’s senior advisers the other day, and he acknowledged it’s a central challenge.

“You start by saying, the high unemployment rate, the inequity, these derive specifically from the policies that Rick Perry or Mitt Romney want to bring back,” the adviser replied. “So, yeah, tough times. Central cause of the tough times? What they want to bring back. The president has done a lot of things: save the auto industry, staved off the worst. We’ve had 20 straight months of private sector job creation. Why on earth would we want to go back to that nightmare?”

Obama’s advisers well know that they will have to paint an extremely vivid picture of what our economic doldrums were like in the immediate wake of GOP control of the White House, to drive home the stakes of a return to failed GOP ideas. And they intend to do that. But will voters buy the idea that electing a new Republican president means a return to old GOP ways? That argument failed in 2010. Polls suggested people didn’t associate Congressional Republicans with the former president’s failings. The difference in a presidential race is that a single candidate’s ideas receive tremendous national scrutiny, and hopefully the economy will have turned around more. But there’s no telling whether it will work this time, either.

Meanwhile, the Republican primary numbers remain in flux.  Herman Cain edges into a three-point lead over both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, 18/15/15, but that’s more or less a statistical tie — a good sign for the recently-resurgent Gingrich.  But the internals clearly favor Romney and Gingrich at this point:

Four out of ten Republicans believe Mitt Romney would be the most likely candidate to beat President Obama in the general election, according to a new CBS News poll.

Romney, who has lingered at or near the top of the polls since the beginning of the 2012 presidential race, led Herman Cain by a 2-to-1 margin with 40 percent support. …

Republican voters also ranked Romney as the most qualified Republican contender to be commander-in-chief, with 26 percent support. He was followed by Gingrich, with 21 percent, and then Cain, with 11 percent.

Gingrich, meanwhile, was ranked most trustworthy in handling an international crisis, earning 31 percent support to Romney’s 15 percent.

Tonight’s debate will probably add to the struggle for Republican voters to find a candidate they can enthusiastically back.  Usually that relates to how well people feel a connection on values with a particular candidate.  In that case, Romney actually leads with 17% in this poll, four points ahead of Cain and almost doubling Gingrich’s 9%.  Michele Bachmann edges Gingrich for third place at 10%.

Tonight’s CBS debate may clarify choices in the minds of primary voters — or may just extend the muddle.