Optimism, that defining characteristic of the construction industry, has been in short supply lately, with contractors often equating success to mere survival. And that's understandable.

It's early in the year still, and hope springs eternal, as they say, but if the results of recent industry polls are right, maybe, finally, optimism is making a comeback.

For starters, there's the reader poll that ENR Southeast posted late last year. The one-question poll asked, "What is your prediction for 2011 construction activity in your local region?" The results were interesting, if not an example of runaway optimism. By far the greatest percentage of voters, 48%, felt that 2011 was going to be "flat or steady" compared to 2010. Roughly 30% of voters selected "slight increase in contracts" to best describe 2011's prospects, while just 2% predicted a "significant increase."

Only 20% predicted 2011 would present decreased opportunities. Of that total, 11% predicted a "slight decrease," while 9% expected a "significant decrease."

Like I said, definitely not runaway optimism. But other industry surveys are revealing similar sentiments. Jenna McKnight, editor with Architectural Recordreported that the American Institute of Architects' billings index, which tracks architectural billings of its members, rose for the second month in a row in December -- the second month it had achieved a positive score of 50 or better, in fact.

Also, as reported by ENR, a recent survey by Associated General Contractors of America found some positive signs for 2011, but with a recognition that 2011 will still prove challenging for most firms. ENR's Tom Ichniowski quoted AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr as saying: "While there are some promising, and positive, signs in the outlook, the bottom line is 2011 will not be an easy year for most firms. However, it appears that it may be better than last year."

After these several years of downbeat assessments, maybe "Better than last year" is the most the construction industry should hope for right now.

What do you think? Are these survey results on the mark? Are you feeling slightly more optimistic than a year ago? Let me hear your thoughts!