A few weeks back, we asked members of our community to tell us a little about themselves: What are people looking for from our government? When it comes to transparency, what is the most important priority? What’s the best way we can build movement for open government at the state level?
The first thing we asked was “What is the single most important political issue in your state?” Followed by the same question for “our country.” Many of the responses were what one might expect considering the state of the economy and the political climate—the economy, heath care, government spending, education and immigration all topped the list. In addition to the responses we might expect, though, were also a wide array of opinions on other important factors to make government more transparent like copyright reform or financial deregulation. There were some as well, who share our aims of improving access to government information and ensuring our elected officials are accountable:
“Lack of transparency in government (legislation created behind closed doors) and personal agendas.”
“TRUST in the political process and politicians again.”
“More objective, trusted and transparent information about how money is spent and decisions are made in government.”
“Our government does not represent the citizens’ interests first.”
As an organization, the Sunlight Foundation has spent more than three years trying to show not just the public, but lawmakers, reporters and opinion leaders as well, why a more open and transparent government is a good thing. But this movement is much larger than just one organization, so we also asked respondents to explain simply why “government transparency” matters to them.
Again, the range of responses was broad, but here are some that I wanted to share:
“It is important for me to know what my government is doing.”
“Ours is a representative republic. Our elected representatives need to be held fully accountable for their actions when they are entrusted with our votes. ”
“The ability to easily access information about lobbying activities and campaign donations allows the people to evaluate the influences on their representatives and decide who to support and who can be trusted.”
“Mischief grows in the dark, transparency and openness grows democracy.”
“In order for citizens to fulfill their role in a democracy, they must have timely access to the information they need to make decisions.”
“Government without transparency is tyranny defined.”
“I am pretty much a shut-in and I have to rely on news programs and reports on television cable, it is so much better if I can rely on information that is coming to me from a source that I can rely on and trust.”
Survey respondents were spread across the political spectrum (click for chart), but when asked about transparency issues, there was often agreement. This offers some encouragement that our issues do indeed transcend party or ideology. For example, when asked whether they thought it was important to know how Americans’ tax dollars are being spent, the vast majority of people said it was “very important.”
Another interesting breakdown is to look at the number of respondents who rely on the Internet for news. Using that data, we can see how important is it for them to have “Information on who Members of Congress are meeting with in their office and what they do day to day.”
As you can see, almost everybody who responded relies on the Internet, to some degree, for news, and they think it is either fairly or very important to know who their elected officials are meeting.
There’s one final measure I wanted to share: just how motivated these individuals are. Those who responded to the survey and signed up for the Citizens for Open Government group will form the core of this campaign, and they’re ready for action. When asked if they’d be likely to help, these are the number of people who said yes:
- Call your local elected official: 76%
- Distribute flyers: 65%
- Participate in an event with your local officials : 76%
- Participate in an event to put pressure on elected official: Yes 85%
- Sign a petition: 86%
- Talk to people in your community: 79%
- Write a blog entry: 64%
- Write letters to editor: 73%
- Write letter to elected official: 88%
The campaign is already a success, because we have a foundation of Americans who not only understand the issues, but are passionate as well. We are really happy to know that this effort is being driven by such dedicated people. Or, as one respondent said:
“I hope the opportunity presented by available tools and technologies, in conjunction with the vision outlined in the Open Government Initiative, will help bring a much higher degree of accountability to government at all levels.”
I hope so too.