PUBLIC OPTION, STILL POPULAR…. Some interesting results in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, most notably on health care. While the public remains skeptical about the larger initiative, the most contentious point on the Hill seems to be doing pretty well with the public.

[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.

Asked specifically if it is “important” to give American consumers “a choice” between “a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance,” a combined 72% said it was either “extremely” important (45%) or “quite” important (27%).

On other points, some of the poll results were unexpected, but there was precious little in the way of good news for Republicans.

* The public remains in a sour mood, and 52% believe the country is on the wrong track — the highest number since January.

* Obama’s approval rating remains at 51% in the poll, exactly where’s it’s been for the last few months.

* 43% approve of the president’s handling of health care. For Republicans, it’s 23%.

* 42% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. For the Republican Party, it’s 25%. (Update: The GOP’s rating is even worse now than it was during Bush’s two terms.)

* On the generic ballot test, respondents favored a Democratic candidate over a GOP candidate, 46% to 38%. A month ago, the margin was only three points in Dems’ favor.

* 63% believe the economic problems the White House is dealing with were inherited from the Bush era. That’s down from 72% in June, but it’s still quite high.

* In a bit of a surprise, support for sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan has gone up, and Dick Cheney’s whining notwithstanding, a clear majority support President Obama’s delays until after the Afghan election.

* Support for gay marriage is up considerably from a few years ago, but it’s still a 41% minority.

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.