Financial advisors have turned decidedly more optimistic about the market’s prospects for 2012, according to an SEI Quick Poll. Nine in 10 of the advisors surveyed in early February, including bank advisors, said they expect a positive return for the S&P 500 in 2012, up 18% from a similar survey conducted in mid-January. More than six in 10, 63%, predicted gains greater than 5%, a sentiment that spread dramatically from just three weeks ago.

“Whether it’s the trend in unemployment numbers, positive corporate profits, or lack of bad news, the investment sentiment has shifted to a more optimistic attitude,” said Steve Onofrio, managing director of SEI Advisor Network, a unit of SEI, a provider of investment and fund processing and investment management business outsourcing solutions.

The survey brimmed with additional evidence of growing optimism in the market. More than one in four advisors predicted that the “pessimism bubble” hovering over the economy will burst in 2012. Nearly one-third said that investor sentiment can best be described by the phrase, “the tide is turning.” A majority felt that the investment adages, “Bull markets climb walls of worry” and “A rising tide lifts all boats,” are the most accurate phrases for today.

Another interesting tidbit: Most advisors, 87%, said that the likelihood of the payroll tax cuts being extended beyond February have a 50/50 chance or better.

The survey was completed by more than 100 advisors, the majority of whom manage more than $50 million in assets.