Optimism about the national economy, which sagged in 2011, has rebounded in the first two months of this year, according to a survey this month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Currently, 44% of people say they expect economic conditions to be better a year from now, up from 34% in January and 28% in December.

Moreover, more than half of people (54%) say either that the economy is already recovering (25%) or that it will recover soon (29%). Last April, 44% said a recovery was already underway or would soon occur.

Democrats and independents have become much more optimistic about the economy. Currently, 61% of Democrats and 42% of independents say conditions will be better a year from now – the highest percentages expressing such optimism since 2009. In December, the figures were much lower — just 39% of Democrats and 23% of independents expected improvement.

Republicans are considerably less upbeat about the economy’s trajectory. About half (51%) of those surveyed say that economic conditions will be unchanged a year from now — the share holding this view is little changed from December. Three-in-ten (30%) Republicans say conditions will be better in a year from now, a nine point jump from December.

Despite this increase in optimism, current views of the economy remain overwhelmingly negative. Just 11% of people say that economic conditions today are excellent or good, a figure that has changed little over the past four years. In addition, economic optimism has proven fragile in the past. Between October 2008 and April 2010, 40% or more of those surveyed said that they expected economic conditions to improve in the next year. By last summer, this percentage had fallen to approximately 30%. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.