A STRONG PUBLIC-OPINION ADVANTAGE…. Congressional Republicans are apparently under the impression that they’re doing everything right. They’re sticking to their far-right principles, refusing to cooperate with President Obama, embracing message discipline, and taking orders from right-wing radio hosts. They are, as Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) recently put it, “Back in the saddle.”

As it turns out, they’ve impressed themselves far more than they’ve impressed the country.

After Barack Obama’s first six weeks as president, the American public’s attitudes about the two political parties couldn’t be more different, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.

Despite the country’s struggling economy and vocal opposition to some of his policies, President Obama’s favorability rating is at an all-time high…. By comparison, the Republican Party — which resisted Obama’s recently passed stimulus plan and has criticized the spending in his budget — finds its favorability at an all-time low.

The news wasn’t all good for Democrats. The poll shows that the president’s popularity is stronger than the support for his individual policies. For that matter, some GOP talking points, no matter how wrong, are beginning to resonate — Americans are reportedly concerned about wasteful spending in the stimulus and increasing the deficit too much.

But those reservations notwithstanding, the NBC/WSJ poll is bound to bring a smile to the faces of White House staffers. Obama enjoys a 68% favorable rating and a 60% approval rating, while 67% feel more hopeful about his leadership. In one of the more interesting surprises, the number of Americans who believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction has jumped from 26% to 41%, despite the severe economic conditions.

And perhaps most importantly, the overwhelming majority of the public doesn’t blame Obama for the state of the economy (sorry, Wall Street Journal editorial page), and two-thirds of the public believe the president has at least a year before he’s responsible for it.

As for the minority party:

Just 26 percent view the Republican Party positively, which is an all-time low for the party. That’s compared with 49 percent who have a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

In addition, a combined 56 percent say the previous Bush administration deserved “almost all” of the blame or a “major part” of the blame for the partisanship in Washington, and a combined 41 percent say the same of congressional Republicans. […]

Also, the public overwhelmingly believes the GOP’s opposition to Obama’s policies and programs is based on politics: 56 percent say they’re trying to gain political advantage, versus 30 percent who say they’re standing up for their principles.

Finally, Americans don’t seem to have confidence in the Republican Party when it comes to the economy. By a 48-20 percent margin, they think the Democratic Party would do a better job of getting the country out of the recession.

Republicans, Hart argues, “have been tone deaf to the results of the 2008 election… They never heard the message. They continue to preach the old-time religion.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.