The recession technically ended 5-1/2 years ago, but the public is only now — in the wake of falling gasoline prices and the GOP election victory last November — starting to believe it, the latest IBD/TIPP Poll shows.

The January survey found that 59% say the economy is improving, up from just 45% two months ago. And while nearly half said the economy was still in a recession last summer, only 37% say that's the case today.

More than a quarter (28%) believe the economy will improve over the next six months, which is up from 19% who thought so last October.

At the same time, 46% now say they're satisfied with federal economic policies meant to keep the economy going in the right direction. While that's less than half, the satisfaction rate was just 39% two months ago.

And the share who say they are satisfied with the overall direction of the country hit 45% this month, up 10 points from December. The share who said they were dissatisfied dropped from 63% in December to 54% in January.

To be sure, the country still wants Congress to make creating jobs a top priority, with 66% saying lawmakers should focus on enacting policies to boost job growth. In contrast, just 35% say raising the minimum wage should be a top priority. Immigration reform (47%) and ObamaCare (45%) came in between.

President Obama, meanwhile, isn't benefiting much from the nation's more upbeat economic mood. At 43%, Obama's approval rating is virtually unchanged from last month, and 41% have a favorable view of his leadership, which is down two points from last month.

The IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index rose for a third straight month, climbing 0.8 point to 44.5. But that's still well below the neutral 50 level.

More continue to think Obama is providing the country weak leadership (45%) than strong (33%). Those polled do give Obama slightly higher marks on his handling of the economy and federal budget.

But the public overwhelmingly believes Obama has failed to improve race relations. Fully 62% say they have gotten worse since he took office, with just 24% say they've improved. Even among Democrats, only a little more than a third say race relations have improved since 2009.

The poll also found widespread opposition to a boost in the gas tax, an idea that has suddenly started to gain traction among Washington lawmakers as gas prices tumble. Even Republicans aren't dismissing the idea.

"It's clearly one of the options," Sen. Inhofe, R-Okla., the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, told The Hill.

The IBD/TIPP Poll found that 59% oppose raising the gas tax, including 70% of Republicans and 65% of independents. In fact, there's not one demographic, income or ideology group with a clear majority in favor of boosting the gas tax.

The poll also found stronger opposition to the gas tax hike among lower-income families, compared with those making more than $75,000.

Among the January poll's other findings:

The public strongly backs normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba (67% support this) and lifting the trade embargo with the communist country (68%).

More than two thirds (69%) don't think the U.S. can negotiate a deal with Iran that would stop them from developing a nuclear bomb.

More than half (51%) continue to oppose ObamaCare. Almost half (45%) want it repealed, while just 25% want it left as is.

The IBD/TIPP poll surveyed 867 people from Jan. 5-8. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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