2011 ISN’T STARTING THE WAY REPUBLICANS HOPED…. Going through the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, there’s just not much in the way of good news for Republicans.

What a difference a few weeks can make.

Last month, Republicans were celebrating their midterm victories; Democrats were licking their electoral wounds; and President Barack Obama’s approval rating was stuck in the mid-’40s.

But after a five-week stretch that included bipartisan legislative achievements in the lame-duck session of Congress, mostly positive economic news and Obama’s well-received speech honoring the victims of the tragic shootings in Arizona, the political world has taken an abrupt turn in direction.

President Obama’s approval rating in the poll is up to 53%, higher than at any point in 2010, and is picking up much stronger support from independents. A plurality has a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, while the percentage of the public that identifies with the Tea Party is in steady decline. Americans are feeling a little more optimistic about the economy, and 35% believe the country is on the right track — which sounds awful, but it’s actually the highest it’s been in over a year.

Republicans’ post-midterm glow, meanwhile, appears to have faded rather quickly. After the GOP took over the House in 1995, 37% believed Republicans would bring “the right kind of change” to the country. Now, that number is just 25%. The poll also found that most Americans believe congressional Republicans will be too inflexible in dealing with the White House, and the GOP’s favorable ratings are not only lower than Dems’, but have also fallen from a month ago.

Obviously, it’s just one poll — though other national surveys have offered similar results of late — and there are no doubt plenty of changes to come.

The point, though, is that Republicans hoped to get 2011 off on the right foot, and have some wind at their backs as the 112th Congress gets underway. After all, that’s what happened after the last “wave” election bolstered Republicans’ standing in D.C.

By all available evidence, that’s just not the case — Obama appears to be on the upswing, not the new, larger Republican caucuses.

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.