Nearly nine in 10 Americans say it's important to know presidential and congressional candidates' positions on open government, but three out of four view the federal government as secretive, according to a survey released Sunday.
Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University conducted the survey in conjunction with Sunshine Week, a nationwide effort by media organizations to draw attention to the public's right to know.
The survey found a significant increase 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. That's a sobering jump, 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," he said.
The survey of 1,012 adults was commissioned by ASNE as part of a yearlong campaign to have candidates for all levels of office discuss their positions on government access issues.
Half of the poll respondents said government at the state level is secretive, while 44 percent viewed it as open. Those who see local government as secretive increased from 34 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in the 2008 survey.
A majority of people also 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. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.