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U.S. Views on the U.N.: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

With the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations headed to the Senate floor, it’s time to look at American attitudes about the organization he may join. [IMGCAP(1)]

In February 2005, 36 percent said that the United Nations was doing a good job trying to solve the problems it has to face. That’s down from 55 percent when Gallup first asked the question in 1953. And 64 percent today, compared to 85 percent in 1997, said the U.N. plays a necessary role in the world.

Doubts aside, Americans don’t want to leave. Just 13 percent said we should give up our membership, virtually unchanged from 1951, when 11 percent gave that response.

Congress’ Ratings. All the major polls are reporting low approval ratings for Congress.

In the early-May AP/Ipsos Public Affairs poll, 35 percent approved of the job Congress was doing and 61 percent disapproved. Ratings in this poll have been edging downward since early February, when 44 percent approved.

Gallup’s May 2-5 poll showed a 35 percent approval rating, too. Gallup’s number is the lowest for the organization since 1997.

CBS News asked about the institution as a whole and about people’s own representatives. In a pattern we have seen for many years, the institution was less popular (35 approval rating) than the individual member (57 percent).

Still, things don’t look as bad as they did in the fall of 1994, when around 20 percent approved of the job Congress was doing.

Gallup found similar ratings on ethics for Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Fifty-six percent said most Republicans in Congress were ethical (38 percent said they were not). For Democrats, those responses were 55 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Free Trade Agreements. With the future of the Central American Free Trade Agreement in doubt, it’s useful to look at a trend question from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The center’s December survey found that 47 percent of respondents said “free trade agreements like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization have been a good thing,” while 34 percent said they were a bad thing. Those responses are very similar to the ones Pew got when the organization first asked the question in 1997.

Blame for Rising Gas Prices. Gallup asked people in a poll taken April 29 through May 1 how much they blamed four different entities for the recent increase in gas prices. They found that 50 percent placed “a great deal” of blame on foreign countries that produce oil, 47 percent on oil companies in the United States, 38 percent on the Bush administration, and 24 percent on Americans who drive vehicles that use a lot of gasoline.

In another question in the poll, 67 percent said that there were reasonable steps that Bush should take that would significantly lower gas prices, while 29 percent said there were not.

And in the May 11-15 Pew poll, 58 percent of respondents said they were following closely stories about the high price of gasoline.

Conservatives Outnumber Liberals. In early May, Gallup updated two questions on people’s ideological leanings. The responses have been stable since Gallup started asking the questions in 1997.

Five percent of those surveyed described their views on social issues as very conservative, 30 percent conservative, 39 percent moderate, 17 percent liberal and 7 percent very liberal.

When it came to economic issues, people were more conservative and less liberal. Five percent described themselves as very conservative, 37 percent conservative, 42 percent moderate, 11 percent liberal, and 2 percent very liberal.

Wal-Mart. In the late-April-early-May Hotline/Westhill Partners poll, 55 percent had a favorable opinion of Wal-Mart and 31 percent an unfavorable opinion. Sixty-three percent of Republicans, 52 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion.

Mom. Three new surveys about motherhood were released before Mother’s Day. Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner Research (D) released a poll of moms taken in February for Club Mom. The Institute for American Values released a survey of mothers taken in January and February. And an April survey by ABC News and The Washington Post reported on national attitudes about motherhood.

All three surveys reported high satisfaction with motherhood. And although mothers reported some stress, the rewards of being a mother clearly outweighed the daily difficulties. Reflecting other surveys, the Institute for American Values study found that only a small number (16 percent) of mothers wanted to work full-time if they could choose their ideal situation. One in three would prefer to work part-time, and 30 percent would prefer to work for pay from home. (In their survey, 41 percent of mothers reported working full-time.)

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.

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