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“My guess would be people give him the benefit of the doubt until then,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating has remained high, between 60 percent and 70 percent, despite the onslaught of grim news from Wall Street and Main Street.

“This is a deep and complex sets of problems. So while a new administration should be responsible for its decisions in real time, we cannot hold it accountable for macroeconomic outcomes for one to two years,” said Alan S. Blinder, a former economic adviser to Mr. Clinton now at Princeton University.

But Robert Wright, a financial history professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said Mr. Obama can use the “inherit” line, “albeit carefully, essentially forever.”

“It’s sort of like that Billy Joel song, ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire,’ ” Mr. Wright wrote in an e-mail, adding the lyrics from the 1989 hit: “We didn’t start the fire / It was always burning since the world’s been turning / We didn’t start the fire / No we didn’t light it but we tried to fight it.”

“What he will have to own are the success or failure of policies adopted under his watch. But he can’t magically fix something that grew over years … and decades,” Mr. Wright said.