More People See Federal Government as Secretive; Nearly All Want to Know...

More People See Federal Government as Secretive; Nearly All Want to Know Where Candidates Stand on Transparency

Embargoed for Release: Sunday, March 16, 2008


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More People See Federal Government as Secretive; Nearly All Want to Know<br /> Where Candidates Stand on Transparency

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WASHINGTON,
March 15 /PRNewswire-HISPANIC PR WIRE/ — Three-quarters of American adults view
the federal government as secretive, and nearly nine in 10 say it’s important to
know presidential and congressional candidates’ positions on open government
when deciding who to vote for, according to a Sunshine Week survey by Scripps
Howard News Service and Ohio University.

 

The
survey shows a significant increase over the past three years in the percentage
of Americans who believe the federal government is very or somewhat secretive,
from 62 percent of those surveyed in 2006 to 74 percent in 2008.

 

“In
a democracy whose survival depends on openness, it’s sobering to see that
three-fourths of Americans now view their national government as somewhat or
very secretive,” said David Westphal, Washington editor for McClatchy
Newspapers and co-chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Freedom
of Information Committee. “On the other hand, it’s gratifying to see that
almost 90 percent believe a candidate’s position on open government is an
important issue when they make their Election Day choices.”

 

The
survey of 1,012 adults was commissioned by ASNE for Sunshine Week, a national
initiative that encourages discussions about the importance of open government
and freedom of information. Sunshine Week’s 2008 Sunshine Campaign is a yearlong
effort to have candidates for all level of office — from president to city
council — discuss their positions on government access issues.

 

Half
of respondents said government at the state level is secretive, while 44 percent
viewed it as open. Nearly all interviewed, 92 percent, said open government is
important to them in assessing candidates for state offices such as governor or
attorney general. Those who see local government as secretive increased from 34
percent in 2007 to 40 percent in the 2008 survey. And 91 percent said the local
candidate’s position and record on open government are important to them in
making a voting decision.

 

People
also overwhelmingly want access to information such as who lawmakers meet with
each day (82 percent), police reports about specific crimes in local
neighborhoods (71 percent), and permits for concealed handguns (66 percent).
About half said they do not object to officials asking people seeking records to
identify themselves or explain why they’d like to see the record.

 

Although
only about a quarter of adults believe the federal government has opened their
mail or monitored their telephone conversations without a federal warrant,
three-quarters believe it has happened to people in the United States and
two-thirds say it is very or somewhat likely to have happened to members of the
news media.

 

The
survey was conducted by telephone from Feb. 10-28 under the supervision of
Robert Owens, operations manager of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio
University. The co-directors of the center are Jerry Miller and Ani Ruhil. Guido
H. Stempel III, distinguished professor emeritus at Ohio University, also
assisted the project.

 

The
poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

 

Sunshine
Week, http://www.sunshineweek.org , is a non-partisan open government initiative
led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, http://www.asne.org , with
online and broadcast media, public officials, celebrities, civic groups,
non-profits, libraries, schools, religious leaders and others. Sunshine Week is
endowed through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, http://www.knightfdn.org , which invests in journalism excellence worldwide and
the vitality of the 26 communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.
It focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change.

 

 

The
following are selected findings from a survey of 1,012 adult residents of the
United States conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University in a
study commissioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for Sunshine
Week.

 

Here
are some questions about whether you feel government in America is open and
transparent or whether you think government is closed and secretive. When
talking about the local government in your community, do you think local
government is very open, somewhat open, somewhat secretive or very secretive?

 

 

Very
Open          
16

Somewhat
Open       40

Somewhat
Secretive  26

Very
Secretive      14

Don’t
Know/Other     4

 

 

How
about your state government? Is it is very open, somewhat open, somewhat
secretive or very secretive?

 

 

Very
Open          
10

Somewhat
Open       40

Somewhat
Secretive  30

Very
Secretive      14

Don’t
Know/Other     6

 

 

How
about the federal government based in Washington, D.C.?

 

 

Very
Open           
4

Somewhat
Open       16

Somewhat
Secretive  30

Very
Secretive      44

Don’t
Know/Other     6

 

 

 

How
likely do you think it is that the federal government has opened mail or
monitored telephone conversations of people in the U.S. without first getting
permission from a federal judge? Is it very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat
unlikely or very unlikely that the federal government has done these things
without permission from a judge?

 

 

Very
Likely       
48

Somewhat
Likely    29

Somewhat
Unlikely   7

Very
Unlikely       9

Don’t
Know/Other    7

 

 

How
likely do you think it is that the federal government has opened your mail or
monitored some of your telephone conversations?

 

 

Very
Likely       
11

Somewhat
Likely    15

Somewhat
Unlikely  17

Very
Unlikely      47

Don’t
Know/Other   10

 

 

How
likely is it that the federal government has opened mail or monitored telephone
conversations involving members of the news media?

 

 

Very
Likely       
38

Somewhat
Likely    26

Somewhat
Unlikely   9

Very
Unlikely      12

Don’t
Know/Other   15

 

 

How
important to you is a candidate’s position on open government when you decide
whom to vote for? So when you are voting for president, is a candidate’s
position on open government very important, somewhat important, somewhat
unimportant or very unimportant to you?

 

 

Very
Important       60

Somewhat
Important   27

Somewhat
Unimportant  6

Very
Unimportant      4

Don’t
Know/Other      3

 

 

How
about when voting for a member of Congress. Is open government very important,
somewhat important, somewhat unimportant or very unimportant to you?

 

 

Very
Important       60

Somewhat
Important   28

Somewhat
Unimportant  4

Very
Unimportant      2

Don’t
Know/Other      6

 

 

How
about when voting for a candidate for state office like governor or attorney
general?

 

 

Very
Important       64

Somewhat
Important   28

Somewhat
Unimportant  4

Very
Unimportant      3

Don’t
Know/Other      1

 

 

How
about when voting for your city council or school board?

 

 

Very
Important       69

Somewhat
Important   22

Somewhat
Unimportant  3

Very
Unimportant      3

Don’t
Know/Other      3

 

 

Government
records usually are considered public documents that people may view during
normal business hours. Which of the following should be the government’s policy
when releasing government documents: First, that people should be required to
show identification and give a written reason for seeing the documents? Or
second, that people should be required to speak their names and say why they
want to see the documents? Or third, that they should speak their names but not
be required to give a reason why they want to see the documents? Or fourth, that
they should give a reason but not give their names? Or fifth, that they should
not be asked either their names or why they want to see the records?

 

 

Show
ID and give written reason   36

Speak
name and explain why       
15

Speak
name but not reason        
12

Give
reason but not give name     
6

Should
not give name or reason    22

Don’t
Know/Other                  
9

 

 

Lawmakers
at the local, state, and federal levels meet with a lot of different people over
the course of a day such as lobbyists, voters, other government officials and
campaign donors. They usually keep lists of those visitors. Do you think the
public should be allowed to see with whom lawmakers meet?

 

 

Yes             
82

No              
11

Don’t
Know/Other  7

 

 

Just
as with the question about access to public records, if people are allowed to
see a lawmaker’s list of visitors, should people have to identify themselves and
state reasons why they want to see the lists:

 

 

Show
ID and give written reason  42

Speak
name and explain why      
13

Speak
name but not reason        
9

Give
reason but not give name    
4

Should
not give name or reason   26

Don’t
Know/Other                 
6

 

 

I’d
like to ask some questions about whether governments should release information
to the public. For example, should a city police department allow the public to
see incident reports about specific crimes in local neighborhoods?

 

 

Yes               
71

No                
15

Don’t
Know/Other   14

 

 

Some
states allow people to carry concealed handguns if they get a permit. Should
state governments allow the public to see who has been given permits to carry
concealed handguns?

 

 

Yes              
66

No               
25

Don’t
Know/Other   9

 

 

Source:
National survey of 1,012 adult residents of the United States conducted by
Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University from Feb. 10-28.

 

 

The
perception that the federal government often operates in secrecy has grown
significantly in recent years, according to a series of polls conducted by
Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

 

Here
are some questions about whether you feel government in America is open and
transparent or whether you think government is closed and secretive. When
talking about the federal government based in Washington, D.C., is it very open,
somewhat open, somewhat secretive or very secretive?

 

 

                      
2006       
2007       
2008

Very
Open              
5          
7          
4

Somewhat
Open          
28         
18         
16

Somewhat
Secretive      40         
32         
30

Very
Secretive         
22         
37         
44

Don’t
Know             
5          
6          
6

 

 

Source:
Three polls of at least 1,000 adult residents of the United States each
interviewed by telephone by the Scripps Survey Research Center.

More People See Federal Government as Secretive; Nearly All Want to Know Where Candidates Stand on Transparency