The new Washington Post-ABC News poll is out, and the numbers are astounding.

No, we’re not talking about Barack Obama’s lead, although let’s be clear that a 53-42 advantage over John McCain among likely voters — and an even stronger 54-41 lead among registered voters — is impressive.

But those numbers simply confirm an advantage that has been consistent ever since the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates put convention theatrics — including GOP vice presidential pick Sarah Palin — behind them are started debating. In fact, the Real Clear Politics “poll-of-polls” give Obama an only marginally less-striking 7 point lead over McCain.

What is astounding is the right-direction/wrong-direction question.

Pollsters frequently ask something along the lines of this WP-ABC inquiry: “Do you think things in this country (are generally going in the right direction) or do you feel things (have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track)?”

First, let’s get some perspective:

Going into the 2004 presidential election, the split was 41 percent “right direction,” 55 percent “wrong direction.” Hardly pop-the-corks numbers, but fair enough for an incumbent party. And George Bush held onto the White House, while Republicans kept the Congress.

Going into the 2006 congressional elections, the split was 30 percent “right direction,” 68 percent “wrong direction.” When more than two-thirds of Americans say things have gone awry, that’s good news for the opposition party. And it was that year, as Democrats retook the House and Senate and expanded their hold on governorships.

O.K. so where do the numbers stand this year?

With just three weeks to go until the election, only 8 percent of Americans say their country is headed in the “right direction.”

For the first time in the history of the WP-ABC poll, 90 percent say “wrong direction.”

In the depths of the the mid-70s downturn and recession — when the country was also dealing with a little crisis called “Watergate” — only 75 percent said “wrong direction” on the eve of the 1974 election when voters severely punished Republicans who then controlled the White House.

In the angriest election in recent American history, the 1992 contest between Republican President George H.W. Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton and Reform (no, it’s not a new word) Party candidate Ross Perot, the “wrong direction” number on the eve of the election was 76 percent.

So let’s understand one thing: Americans are prepared, at an unprecedented level, to vote for a radical shift in direction.

And let’s understand something else: American wants that shift to be away from the direction in which McCain supporter, fund-raiser and fellow partisan George W. Bush has been steering the ship of state.

Bush’s approval rating has sunk to the lowest level in his tenure.

Only 23 percent, less than a quarter, of Americans approve of the president’s handling of his job. A mere 7 percent “strongly approve” of Bush, while a stunning 58 percent “strongly disapprove.”

The sources of that disapproval are many.

But one issue now tops all others: the economy.

At the start of the year, economic concerns were in competition with worries about the war in Iraq for top billing — 29 percent economy, 20 percent Iraq.

Now, 53 percent of those surveyed say the economy is “the single most important issue in your choice for president.”

Only 6 percent say Iraq.

Barely 1 percent mentions the issue that the right tried to put on the agenda this year: immigration.

So let’s put the pieces together:

* 9 out of every 10 Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

* What’s got them bugged? It’s the economy, stupid.

* Who do they think screwed things up? George Bush.

* Who voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time? Who backed Bush’s rush to deregulate, to free up trade and to otherwise leave working Americans economically defenseless? John McCain

Add the answers up and the results are as devastating as the new polls numbers.

The McCain campaign knows this.

That’s why the Republican nominee, his aides (a group that includes former White House political czar Karl Rove and most of his team) and and their media echo chamber is working overtime to come up with another issue, another concern, another anything: Bill Ayears, ACORN, the New Party, race, ethnicity.

The Democratic nominee should let others counter the smears.

For the next three weeks, Obama should repeat the mantra that matters:

“The Bush-McCain economy…”

“The Bush-McCain economy…”

“The Bush-McCain economy…”