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The Optimism Gap

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President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrive to speak in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)  

The bump recorded for President Obama's approval rating in two national surveys released Tuesday captures his success in framing the debate against congressional Republicans on extending the payroll tax cut. But over the long term, Obama's ability to sustain those gains (which pushed his approval rating to 49 percent in both the ABC/Washington Post and the CNN/ORC survey) will probably turn on the trajectory of Americans' attitudes about the economy.

The latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor survey, released last week, captures a paradox: groups that supported Obama in the 2008 election are generally more negative in describing their current economic situation than groups that resisted him. But the supportive groups are much more optimistic than the critical groups about where the economy is headed - and generally, though not uniformly, more positive on the impact of Obama's agenda on their economic prospects.

The table below looks at economic attitudes among nine groups that Obama carried in 2008, and nine that preferred Republican nominee John McCain, according to the 2008 exit polls. The results are taken from the most recent Heartland Monitor, conducted by FTI Strategic Communications, a communications-strategy consulting firm; the poll surveyed 1,200 adults by landline telephone and cell phone from November 30 to December 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points

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