Massachusetts residents believe strongly in open government but view state government as secretive, according to a new poll released by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School.
Seventy percent of registered voters believe that public access to government records is critical to the functioning of good government, according to the poll. But 57 percent of voters view Massachusetts' state government as somewhat or very secretive. By contrast, the majority of respondents view local government as somewhat or very open.
The poll was conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center and taken as background for a symposium on Massachusetts' public records law, being held from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 28, at the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School. The conference will examine problems in the operation of the 1973 law, which is intended to provide public access to government documents. The meeting is co-sponsored by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association.
The symposium falls on International Right to Know Day and features speakers from across the United States and overseas.
"Ninety other countries have adopted public records laws since 1973," said Alasdair Roberts, the Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk Law School. "There's a lot we can learn about ways of improving the Massachusetts law."
The poll shows that public attitudes on openness are strongly connected to views about government taxation and spending. Supporters of Question 3, which would cut the state sales tax to three percent, are more likely to regard state agencies as secretive. Similarly, opponents of federal stimulus spending are more likely to regard the federal government as secretive.
In general, though, attitudes toward openness are not strongly tied to party preferences. Large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents agree that public access to government records is critical to the functioning of good government. Regardless of party preference, local government is viewed as more open than state government.
The statewide survey of 500 Massachusetts registered voters was conducted September 16-19, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent.