A More Positive Public Awaits the State of the Union

A new poll finds that slightly more people have good things to say about the country, compared to last year.

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to members of the news media before a meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (R) and other members of the president's cabinet at the White House November 7, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, President Barack Obama will likely face a tough crowd when he delivers Tuesday's State of the Union address. But across the country, he might be speaking to a slightly more optimistic audience.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll previewed Sunday found that Americans are more upbeat than they were a year ago. Asked to describe the state of the nation, 38 percent of respondents chose optimistic terms like "recovering" and "hopeful." Last year, 32 percent of those polled picked the positive words. 

Combined with a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing a spike in Obama's approval rating, the results could be taken as good news for the White House after a disastrous showing by Democrats in the midterm elections.  Yet there's still plenty of pessimism. Nearly half of the respondents, 48 percent, still chose negative words, like "troubled," and "deteriorating" to describe the country.  

"Divided" was the most popular term, selected by 40 percent of those polled, a slightly higher rate than last year, when it was the most popular with 37 percent. 

The poll reached 800 people between Jan. 14 and Jan. 17. The margin of error was 4.9 points. Full results are to be released Tuesday.

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