NYT/CBS POLL…. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll is chock full of interesting results, a couple of which might actually have some political significance.

While presidential approval ratings are often the most notable statistics in a national poll, that’s probably the least interesting part of this one. President Obama, not surprisingly, remains quite popular, enjoying a 66% approval rating, up slightly from the last NYT/CBS News poll. More important, though, was the noticeable increase in public optimism.

[T]he number of people who said they thought the country was headed in the right direction jumped from 15 percent in mid-January, just before Mr. Obama took office, to 39 percent today, while the number who said it was headed in the wrong direction dropped to 53 percent from 79 percent. That is the highest percentage of Americans who said the country was headed in the right direction since 42 percent said so in February 2005, the second month of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The percentage of people who said the economy was getting worse has declined from 54 percent just before Mr. Obama took office to 34 percent today. And 20 percent now think the economy is getting better, compared with 7 percent in mid-January.

And how are things going for the GOP? Not at all well.

[J]ust 31 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the Republican Party, the lowest in the 25 years the question has been asked in New York Times/CBS News polls. […]

By more than three to one, voters said they trusted Mr. Obama more than they trusted Congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the economy. And by more than two to one, they said they trusted Mr. Obama to keep the nation safe, typically a Republican strong suit.

Respondents were asked, “Regardless of how you usually vote, do you think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is more concerned with the needs and problems of people like yourself?” Respondents preferred Dems, 57% to 22%.

One of these days, they’re bound to figure out that the public isn’t buying what the party is selling.

But these are the numbers I was especially interested in.

Almost three-quarters of Americans think it is a good idea to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 per year. In fact, two-thirds of Americans think the tax code should be changed so that middle-class Americans pay less than they do now and “upper income” people pay more. […]

Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they are willing to pay higher taxes in order to provide all Americans with health care coverage…. Asked which domestic policy area the president and the Congress should focus on other than the economy, thirty-five percent said health care, the top choice.

Something for lawmakers to keep in mind. Fox News, Limbaugh, and far-right bloggers may be outraged by a progressive agenda, but the public in general seems to think it’s a good idea.

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.