One year out before President Barack Obama faces voters in his bid for re-election, he encounters an American public that remains deeply pessimistic about the state of the country and its economy, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction; just 25 percent think the U.S. economy will improve in the next 12 months; and a solid majority says the country is experiencing the start of a long-term decline.

Those attitudes have helped shape their opinions of the president, with majorities disapproving of his overall job performance and his economic handling, and with nearly 75 percent saying that the Obama administration has fallen short of their expectations on the economy and improving oversight of Wall Street and the banks.

Yet despite those views, Obama continues to run ahead of the Republican presidential front-runners in hypothetical general-election match ups — leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by six points and former businessman Herman Cain by 15 points.

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