Nearly half of African-Americans remain optimistic, despite a stubbornly high black unemployment rate. And African-Americans are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than in previous elections.

A newly released NBC News/Wall Street Journal/theGrio.com poll finds that 49 percent of African-Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction, versus 38 percent who say the country is on the wrong track. That’s a sharp contrast from all poll respondents, who by an overwhelming 73-19 percent say the country is on the wrong track.

In addition, despite the negative effects of the recession on black households, half of African-American respondents say Obama’s economic policies have improved the nation’s economic conditions, versus 44 percent who say Obama’s policies haven’t made a difference.

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An overwhelming 86 percent of African-Americans said they approve of the president’s handling of the economy. By contrast, 57 percent of overall respondents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, versus just 40 percent who approve.

And while by a 54 to 40 percent margin, all respondents say the U.S. is at the “start of a longer term decline, where the U.S. is no longer the leading country in the world,” rather than “going through the kind of tough time the country faces from time to time,” African-Americans say the reverse is true, by a margin of 59 to 32 percent.

The one area in which a majority of African-Americans expressed disappointment with Obama’s job performance was in the area of providing proper oversight for Wall Street and the big banks. In that area, 56 percent said the president has fallen short of their expectations versus 33 percent who say he has lived up to them.

Chicago South Side resident Renee Coats is out of work and living with her older brother and their ailing 84-year-old mother. Coats said she’s struggling to get by.

“I just got some emergency food stamps last month but I haven’t got anything this month,” she told theGrio.

“I’m in between a rock and a hard place.”

The 56-year-old has run out of employment benefits and her job search hasn’t gotten better, despite going back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in business management.

Nonetheless, she says the country is making economic progress.

“I think it’s gonna take awhile, but I think it’s headed in the right direction,” Coats said.

Indeed, the poll found that 62 percent of African-Americans say the country’s economic recession is behind us.

“Yes, Obama is doing a good job,” Keanna Crawford told theGrio. She doesn’t blame Obama for her 2-year unemployment status—she blames his predecessors.

“He’s cleaning up someone else’s mess,” she said.

In fact, 57 percent of African-Americans blamed America’s problems on Republicans in Congress, rather than on Obama.

Despite criticism of the president from the Congressional Black Caucus and some black television and radio personalities, the poll shows Obama’s popularity enduring with his most loyal base.

That could spell good news for the president in 2012, since a strong majority — 59 percent — of African-Americans in the poll said they are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than they were in previous elections.

Rutgers University political science professor Alvin Tillery says the symbolic value of an African-American president for black Americans is “tremendously high.”

“For better or for worse, Obama is regarded as a symbolic institution that must be honored,” Tillery told theGrio.

Tillery also cited research that supports why African-Americans may be more generally optimistic about overcoming today’s economic conditions. He says historically speaking, African-Americans who are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder tend to be more optimistic that their middle to upper-class counter parts who have experienced material and financial contentment.

“You’re gonna have optimism because you’re at rock bottom already,” Tillery said.

“How else are you going to survive?”

Survival is something that 53-year-old Kentucky manufacture worker Lerone Weaver says is getting more difficult.

“I’m in the lower middle class right now because it’s a struggle,” Weaver said. “It’s week to week, no extras.”

Weaver is a registered Democrat. He says Obama is doing everything he can to improve the economy but that the president is experiencing push-back from Republicans in Congress.

“They’re stopping progress,” he says.

Algernon Austin, of the Economic Policy Institute, says increased voter enthusiasm for 2012 may result from African-Americans wanting to challenge the strong opposition that Obama is facing from Congress.

Weaver says he is looking forward to the 2012 election season.

“I’m ready to vote next year because I’d like to get more Republicans out,” he says.

The poll was conducted from November 2-5 among 400 African-American respondents. The margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent.