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Poll: More view government as secretive
Scripps center conducts Sunshine Week survey  

Mar 17, 2008  

Three-quarters of Americans consider the federal government secretive, and nearly nine in 10 say a candidate's position on open government is important to them in deciding whom to vote for in a presidential or congressional race.

That's the finding of a national survey of 1,012 randomly selected adults by Ohio University's Scripps Survey Research Center in partnership with the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and the Scripps Howard News Service. The survey is a centerpiece of ASNE's Sunshine Week (March 16-22), a national initiative that encourages discussions about open government and freedom of information.

The survey found that more Democrats than Republicans think the federal government is secretive; a majority of Republicans agree. A majority of Republicans also think open government is an important issue in deciding whom to vote for.

The survey also shows a significant increase over the past three years in the percentage of Americans who believe the government is somewhat or very secretive.

"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 ASNE's 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."

Half the respondents said government at the state level is secretive, while 44 percent view it as open. Ninety-two percent said open government is important to them in assessing candidates for state offices such as governor or attorney general. 

Thirty-four percent of the respondents consider local government secretive, and 91 percent said a local candidate's position on open government is 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 poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Survey findings were reported by media outlets across the country Sunday, including in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Cleveland Plain  Dealer and Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio University students conducted the survey by telephone from Feb. 10 through 28 under the supervision of Robert Owens, operations manager of the Scripps Survey Research Center. Jerry Miller, associate professor of communication studies, and Ani Ruhil, senior research associate in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. Guido H. Stempel III, distinguished professor emeritus of journalism, assisted in the project.


To speak with a media consultant regarding this story, please contact Professor Emeritus Guido Stempel at 740-593-2609 or stempel@ohio.edu.

Related Links
Scripps Survey Research Center: http://newspolls.org/ 

Published: Mar 17, 2008 12:10 PM  

Perceptions over time 

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.

When talking about the federal government based in Washington, D.C., is it very open, somewhat open, somewhat secretive or very secretive?

Very open
 Somewhat open
 Somewhat secretive
 Very secretive
22 37
 Don't know



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