WASHINGTON - Joe Biden officially begins his general election campaign with a slight polling deficit against Donald Trump, and no indications that his forceful State of the Union address has provided much of a boost with voters, according to a public opinion survey released on Wednesday.

But the newly released USA Today/Suffolk University poll also shows views of the economy have hit their highest level of Biden’s presidency, a sign that voters may be starting to agree with the president that his policies helped the country recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden and Trump on Tuesday clinched the final delegates they needed to win the Democratic and Republican nominations, respectively, with primary victories in Washington state, Mississippi and Georgia. They will be officially named the nominees at their party’s conventions over the summer, but by all indications, Americans are not looking forward to the first rematch between presidential candidates in almost seven decades.

Polls have repeatedly shown both men are unpopular with voters, but the USA Today/Suffolk University survey finds Trump has a slight advantage over Biden nationally, with 40% of voters preferring him over the president’s 38%.

And while unfavorability ratings for both men are 55%, the poll finds Republicans are more fired up about a second Trump presidency than Democrats are for another four years of Biden. Forty-three per cent of Republicans say they are “excited” about Trump’s nomination, versus 22% of Democrats about Biden.

Biden’s approval ratings have been underwater for more than two and a half years, and the dip roughly coincided with the intensification of inflation that accompanied the economy’s bounceback from the mass layoffs and business closures caused by Covid-19.

While the White House has tried to redirect voters’ attention to the strong labor market, ebbing rate of price growth and the potential offered by Biden’s legislative accomplishment, views of the economy specifically have remained negative.

But the USA Today/Suffolk University poll shows that voters are becoming less pessimistic. A third of registered voters believe the economy is recovering, the highest share saying that since Biden took office, the survey says.

“This data point is particularly important to track. If the trend continues, more voters could connect the economic recovery to President Biden, especially if the economy continues to dominate other issues as we get closer to November,” David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said.

Democrats were also cheered by Biden’s performance at the annual State of the Union address last week. The president laid into Trump in a passionate speech that, for some of his allies, quieted fears about the 81-year-old Biden being too old to campaign effectively.

But it didn’t do much to move the needle among the poll’s respondents. While a majority watched the speech, they were nearly evenly split on whether it improved or worsened their views of Biden, and 39% said it made no difference at all.