Sunshine Week '06 at a glance
Two new polls gauging Americans' views on government openness found a majority believe the federal government leans more toward secrecy than openness, while eight in 10 are convinced that an open government is necessary for an effective democracy.
The polls released March 12 at the outset of Sunshine Week also found, however, that the public believes government should keep some information private, particularly if necessary to combat terrorism.
One poll, by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University, found that 64% of respondents thought the federal government is somewhat or very secretive, while more than a third think their local and state governments lean more toward secrecy. Fifty-five percent said state and local governments were somewhat or very open.
But Americans were more closely divided on when government information should be made public, according to the telephone poll of 1,007 adults.
Forty-six percent said government records should be considered public and their release should only be blocked when it "would do harm"; 42% said the government should protect its information and only release it if there is a "sound legal case" for it to be public.
A separate poll released the same day found respondents were supportive of open government and access to public records — though solid majorities also said that government officials should keep records secret if "necessary," or to help in the war on terrorism.
The poll by the AccessNorthwest research and outreach project at the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman found that 81% said democracy requires government to operate openly.
Nearly seven in 10, or 69%, told researchers that open public records and meetings keep government honest. Nearly as many, 63%, said it was OK for government officials to keep records secret if they deem it necessary, and almost three-quarters, 73%, believe the president should "make some public records secret if it might help with the war on terrorism."
The Scripps poll was conducted from Feb. 19 to March 3. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Washington State University poll, conducted from Feb. 19 through March 4, surveyed 403 adults nationwide. It has an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.