Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the economy after a mild upswing of attitudes in September. But Republicans haven't been able to profit politically from the economic gloom, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The survey found a country in a decidedly negative mood, nearly a year after the election of President Barack Obama. For the first time during the Obama presidency, a majority of Americans sees the country as being on the wrong track. Fifty-eight percent of those polled say the economic slide still has a ways to go, up from 52% in September and back to the level of pessimism expressed in July. Only 29% said the economy had "pretty much hit bottom," down from 35% last month. But a dark national view of how everybody in Washington is conducting the public's business appears to be preventing Republicans from benefiting from concerns about the direction of the country or the Democrat-led government's handling of the economy, as the minority party often does. In fact, disapproval of the Republican Party actually has ticked upward, along with the public's general pessimism. Asked which political party should control Congress after next year's midterm elections, Democrats now hold a clear edge over the GOP, 46% to 38%, a month after the Republicans were nearly as popular. In September, the Democratic edge was 43% to 40%. "There was a bounce-back surge for Republicans, and that's stalled," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll with Democratic pollster Peter Hart. "The mood in America may be blue, but attitudes toward Washington are just jet black," Mr. Hart said. Overall, respondents sent Mr. Obama mixed signals on his top policy initiatives. His health-care plan continues to face a plurality of opposition -- 42% say it is a bad idea, against 38% who say it is a good idea. But a key flash point in the health-care debate is showing steadily increasing support. A government-run insurance plan that competes with private insurance plans -- the so-called public option -- is now backed by 48%, compared with 42% who oppose it. In September, 48% opposed it while 46% supported it. In the rough month of August, when noisy town-hall meetings were tarnishing the president's health-care push, 47% opposed the public option and only 43% favored it. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said in an interview: "Clearly, as the public perceives the potential of this landmark legislation passing, they are acknowledging that moment with political support." That has begun redounding to the Democrats' advantage in Congress, he said. "The public sees them getting something done of real importance," Mr. Emanuel said. Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), said positive movement in favor of the public option is "meaningless" if Americans remain opposed to the broader legislation. "They can talk about momentum all they want. The momentum is in the Senate Democratic cloakroom. It's not in Topeka, and it's not in Arcadia, Fla.," Mr. Stewart said, referring to the town Mr. Obama was visiting Tuesday. On Afghanistan, the public is signaling it can support a presidential decision to send more troops, but only so far. Some 47% said they would either strongly or somewhat support sending more troops into the eight-year-old fight, with 43% saying they somewhat or strongly opposed such a move. Last month, 51% said they opposed sending more troops, compared with 44% who approved of such a move. But asked specifically about sending an additional 40,000 troops, which the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has requested, 49% said that would be unacceptable. Just 43% called that acceptable. A majority of Americans are amenable to a much smaller 10,000-troop increase, but a majority of women don't support even that. With support so fluid, "the country is looking to be led," Mr. Hart said. Mr. Obama "has the ability to both shape attitudes and shape policy," he added. The economy is where real signs of stress are showing. The recent recovery of the stock market has done little to temper the pessimism: 64% said the rise of the Dow Jones Industrial Average didn't have much impact on their views of the economy; 32% said it was an important indication of economic improvement. Just 42% said the economy will get better in the next 12 months, down from 47% in September. In contrast, 22% said things would get worse, up from 20%, and 33% said the economy would stay in the same condition, up from 30%. That pessimism has fed into what Mr. Hart called "total disgust" with Washington. Just 23% said they trust Washington to do what is right most of the time or just about always, a level not seen since 1997, 1995 and before that 1982, the last time unemployment reached the current level. That, coupled with the surging "wrong-track" number, should be a red flag to Democrats a year after their 2008 electoral sweep, Mr. McInturff said. But with the economy coloring attitudes across the board, there is time for the party to recover. "This rupture with Washington is magnified because of the scope of economic concerns," he said. "When things are OK, people say, 'Oh, that's just Washington.' When things are bad, they look to Washington for help and ask, 'Can these guys help me?'" Indeed, for all the conservative clamor over Mr. Obama's actions on the economy, 63% of respondents said the government has either done the right amount of intervention or needs to do more. Among loosely aligned voters in the middle of the electorate, a clear plurality, 42%, said government has done too little to fix the economy.