But the Pew survey showed a different story, with the president largely buoyed by a positive economic outlook. A third of Americans say the economy will be better in the future, while just 19 percent say economic conditions will get worse. That's a reversal from earlier this year, and further echoed by the fact that the share of Americans describing the economy as in "excellent" or "good" shape has doubled over the past year, rising to 23 percent from 11 percent. It's also the most optimistic Americans have been about the economy since the president's first inauguration.

Voters remain frustrated by a stagnant job market, with 64 percent reporting jobs are difficult to find in their area. But that's still the most positive measure of the job situation since July 2008; in the president's first term, some 85 percent said jobs were tough to come by.

And while half of all voters still disapprove of the president's handling of the economy, that's down 10 points from his all-time low in August 2011.

Controversies over the National Security Agency's top-secret surveillance programs and the Department of Justice's targeting of reporters may be taking a toll on the president, however. Some 51 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of the president's handling of privacy and civil liberties, with just 28 percent of independents saying Obama was doing a good job on those issues. 

But the president is boosted by generally warm perceptions of his fight against terrorism; 56 percent of all Americans say they approve of his handling of those issues, including 52 percent of independents. While 22 percent say Obama's terror policies have made the country less safe, 36 percent say they have made it safer.

The survey of 1,512 adults carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.