In this July 31, 2009 photo, customers pay for their purchases at the check out counter of the new JC Penney store in the Manhattan Mall during the grand opening in New York. Consumers opened their wallets and pocketbooks a bit more in June, increasing their spending for the second straight month while saving a bit less, even as incomes fell sharply. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Washington (CNN) - Although most Americans think that the economy is currently in poor shape, economic optimism has skyrocketed since last fall, according to a new national poll.
And a CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday also indicates that while voters are divided on whether President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney would do a better job on the economy, Romney holds an edge among crucial independent voters in the race for the White House.
"Americans are usually optimists, but in 2011, polls for the first time found that more than half the country thought that economic conditions would worsen in the next 12 months," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Now that trend has reversed itself, with only four in ten saying that the economy will be in poor shape a year from now."
Sixty percent of those questioned say the economy will be in good shape next year, a surge from 39% who felt that way last October. Despite that jump, three-quarters say that current economic conditions are poor, a slight worsening of opinion since May, but better than where things stood in January.
"Not surprisingly, the poll indicates that the economy's the public's top issue, the only topic that more than half say will be extremely important to their presidential vote in November," adds Holland.
The economy's been the top issue on the minds of American voters since late 2007.
Health care runs a close second, followed by the deficit, education, unemployment and terrorism. The survey was conducted Thursday through Sunday, immediately after the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the national heath care law.
Who would better handle the number-one issue?
Forty-eight percent of registered voters say the president would better handle the economy, with 47% saying Romney would do a better job.
"The economy remains the number-one concern to voters, but neither President Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney have an edge on that issue among registered voters nationwide," Holland says. "The groups that think Romney would do a better job - higher-income Americans, men, and older voters - and counterbalanced by lower-income Americans, women, and younger voters who give the edge to Obama. Fifty-two percent of independents think Romney would do a better job on the economy."
The economy and jobs has dominated the first three months of the Obama-Romney general election showdown.
The poll indicates Romney has a ten point advantage on which candidate would do a better job dealing with the federal budget deficit, with Obama holding an eight point advantage on foreign policy and a seven point advantage on health care. Romney holds a three point margin on illegal immigration.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from June 28-July 1, with 1,517 adult Americans, including 1,390 registered voters nationwide, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.