A recent poll conducted by a critic of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) showed that more consumers had a favorable view of the world's largest retailer than a year ago.

Out of 1,000 respondents, 71 percent of people had a "somewhat favorable" view of Wal-Mart, up from 69 percent in a 2006 survey, but down from 76 percent in 2005.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the findings were consistent with other independent polls and its own internal tracking.

The critic group, Wal-Mart Watch, employed Westhill Partners to do the polling in late February and March. It announced the results on Monday.

In the latest poll, 71 percent of respondents also said they had a "somewhat favorable" view of rival Target Corp. (TGT). Only 41 percent said they had a favorable view of Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST), but Westhill Managing Director Jeffrey Levine said the low number was due to less familiarity with that chain.

Westhill Partners, which is owned by public relations firm Financial Dynamics, counsels elected officials, executives, nonprofit organizations and companies on a host of issues.

Union-backed groups like Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart.com have for several years conducted grass-roots campaigns to draw attention to what they regard as poverty-level wages, inadequate health care and other issues at Wal-Mart.

Among those surveyed, 27 percent said they had a more negative opinion of Wal-Mart than they did a year earlier, compared with 11 percent for Target and 4 percent for Costco during the same time period.

The poll found that just 11 percent of Wal-Mart shoppers say they have shopped at Wal-Mart less because of its business and labor practices, while 9 percent said they bought less.

Wal-Mart shares rose 66 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $48.07 on the New York Stock Exchange.