OPEN GOVERNMENT — A Sunshine Week poll suggests that public cynicism that the federal government operates
in an atmosphere of secrecy is as strong as ever, despite President
Barack Obama's promises to make government information more easily
available to the public, reports Thomas Hargrove for Scripps Howard News Service.
A new survey of 1,001 adult residents of the United
States found that 70% believe that the federal government is either
"very secretive" or "somewhat secretive." The largest portion of
respondents, 44%, said it is "very secretive."
That matches the worst rating the federal government received during the final year of George W. Bush's presidency.
The poll is part of a five-year series of studies into
public attitudes toward government openness commissioned by The
American Society of News Editors. It was conducted by Scripps Howard
News Service and Ohio University. The latest survey is being released
Sunday, the beginning of National Sunshine Week.
The survey also found that people believe state and
local governments tend to be much more "open and transparent" in their
operations than the federal government. Only 36% believe their local
governments are very or somewhat secretive. Forty-eight percent said
the same of their state governments.
On his first full day in office last year, Obama
ordered all federal agencies to adopt what he called a "presumption in
favor of disclosure" when handling requests under the federal Freedom
of Information Act. The poll found that only 32 % are familiar with
Americans familiar with the president's executive
order were asked: "Do you think Obama's order has made federal agencies
more open when people ask for information, or not?" Thirty-two percent
said the order made agencies more open, 47% said the agencies have not
become more open and 21% were uncertain or gave other responses.
The survey found that attitudes on federal openness
are strongly related to whether people approve of Obama's performance
as president. Fifty percent said they approve, 40% disapprove and 10%
are undecided or gave different responses.
Among people who approve of Obama's job performance,
nearly half said the government has become more open thanks to his
executive order, while about a quarter said government has not become
more open. Among those who disapprove of his performance, however, more
than two-thirds said government has not become more open following
Obama's executive order.
All survey participants were asked if "there is more
secrecy, less secrecy or about the same amount of secrecy in the Obama
administration as in the previous administration." Thirty-eight percent
said there's about the same amount of secrecy, 34% said the
government's become less secret under Obama and 22% said it has become
even more secretive. Six percent were uncertain or gave other responses.
Attitudes on the openness of the federal government
have changed in recent years. In the first poll conducted for National
Sunshine Week in 2006, 22 % of respondents said they believed the
federal government was "very secretive." It rose to 37% in 2007, 44% in
2008 and then dropped slightly to 40% in 2009 at the beginning of the
The latest survey was conducted from Feb. 3 to March 9
at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University under a grant
from the Scripps Howard Foundation. The poll has a margin of error of
about 4 percentage points.
Sunshine Week is a nonpartisan open-government
initiative led by The American Society of Newspaper Editors with online
and broadcast media, public officials, celebrities, civic groups,
nonprofits, libraries, schools, religious leaders and others.