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THE IOWA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COUNCIL SUMMARY OF 2011 POLL FINDINGS From September 19th to the 22nd, 2011,

SELZER & COMPANY surveyed 803 Iowa residents, ages 18 and over, on their attitudes toward state policies and practices surrounding open records and meetings. The full sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means if the same study were repeated, 19 out of 20 times, the findings would not vary by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points from what is presented in this report. The findings were weighted by age and sex to represent an accurate cross-section of all Iowans age 18 and over, based on recent Census findings. OVERVIEW The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is little known; so is the open meetings and open records law. Still, Iowans are aware they have rights as citizens and wish for, if anything, greater openness in governmental processes. They spark most strongly to the idea that the tax dollars they pay are the price for admission to government meetings and their ticket to review government records. While very few find arguments against greater openness terribly powerful, there is recognition of a necessary tension between openness and privacy. As the IFOIC develops a strategic communication plan to inform Iowa citizens of the importance of open access to government, it may need to demonstrate whether current practices work against greater transparency in government. In particular, most Iowans are little concerned that requiring document requesters to pay the costs of copies imposes any barrier to access. Rather, they see charging requesters as a legitimate way for government offices to recover the costs of providing copies. That general trust in government is, of course, a good thing. IFOIC will need to respect that trust as a starting point as it seeks to bolster citizen commitment to the potential downside of requesters paying fees. However, if anything, Iowans seek more openness even at the expense of privacy of government employees and officials, more effort to make access to government records and meetings easier, and more opportunities to have input into government decisions. SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS Knowledge of the Law Most Iowans know little if anything about Iowa law surrounding open access to meetings and records. On a four-part scale, the vast majority score themselves in the bottom two boxes, with 42% saying they know just some and 27% saying they know nothing at all about the open government law. Just 5% say they know a great deal and one in four (26%) say they know a fair amount. Even Iowans who have requested documents are not that much more knowledgeable, though 44% say they know a great deal or a fair amount (compared to 31% overall). A majority of Iowans in households that include someone who plays a role in government (either as an elected official or a government employee) are also not knowledgeable (61% say they know just some or nothing at all about the open records and meetings law).

Virtually all know the law is for all citizens. A full 85% are confident that the purpose of the law is to provide access for all citizens, not just the media (10%). That said, most value more openness than is currently practiced, in Iowans view. Almost two in three Iowans (63%) say the government should put more effort into holding open meetings and making government documents accessible, with just one in three (34%) saying that what happens now is probably okay. Republicans are slightly more likely to say the status quo is okay (44%); document requesters are slightly more likely to say more effort should be made (68%, compared to 63% overall). Majorities wish for more openness for information on elected and appointed state and local officials and for government employees. Three in four (77%) say there should be more openness rather than more privacy (14%) for people in government office; the numbers are slightly less dramatic for government employees (60% to 30%). Respondents who indicate they are in a household with an official or government employee feel the same as all Iowans about the need for more openness on government officials and government employees. Iowans would welcome more opportunities for input. While they might not report great knowledge of the open meetings and open records law, Iowans value the concept. Asked if there is now ample opportunity for them and for their neighbors to have input into local government decisions, for example, by speaking at public meetings before decisions are made, 56% say they wish for more opportunities; 41% say there is ample opportunity now. A majority of those in government households say there is ample opportunity now (52%). Most think most documents tested in this survey should be available to the public. Respondents were read a list of 14 document types and asked if these should or should not be available to the public and the press. For 12 of these, solid majorities thought the records should be open. For two, however, only about one in three thought the documents should be publicly availableautopsy reports and the names of crime victims. The latter showed somewhat more variability across subgroups, with women more committed to openness than men (36% to 28%), those with the least education more interested in openness than those with the most education (41% to 24%). Yet, in every subgroup, more say these records should not be available than say they should be. The closest finding is among Iowa seniors, with 47% saying crime victim names should not be released versus 43% who say they should. Here is the full list.

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Expense reports of what public officials are spending Lists of candidates under consideration for major state and local government jobs The terms of contracts awarded to private companies by state and local government Proposals companies submit to do work for state and local government How much state and local government workers earn Police department activity logs Mug shots of people who are arrested Real estate transaction reports showing who bought property and how much was paid Reports showing reasons why state and local government workers were disciplined Emails of government officials related to government work Birth and death certificates Disciplinary actions taken against student athletes at state universities Autopsy reports Names of crime victims

Should be Available % 96 90 89 88 78 74 67 66 64 63 60 58 36 32

Also worth noting in this list is that those involved in government do not differ much in their answers to three items related to their positions: expense reports of government officials, salaries of government workers, reports of disciplinary action for government workers, and emails of government officials related to government work. Interpretation These baseline findings support the wisdom of a public information campaigned designed to educate the public on the law regarding open access and open records. One question this research was designed to answer was whether the public was cognizant that the law is for all citizens, not just the media. The answer is yes. There is no need to spend time or effort clarifying this point. Few know much about the law now, but most value the concept. Iowans wish for more openness and are particularly skeptical about campaign contribution disclosures. Still, at least four in 10 are concerned about whether government provides timely access to requested documents, both to the media and to citizens, and whether government officials are abiding by the law in holding decision-making meetings with sufficient notice for the public to have input. In every question about the tension between openness and privacy, Iowans endorse more openness. These findings predict positive reaction to an IFOIC initiative to make the public more aware of their rights and governments responsibilities. Requests Fully one in three Iowans have requested a government document. Another one in six (16%) say they have not, but that is because they do not know what is available and what rights they might have as a citizen to that information. Half (50%) say they are not interested or have had no need for a government document.
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Iowans who have requested documents are more likely to be: Higher income Iowans (45% among those reporting household incomes of $70,000 and over, compared to 27% of those reporting lower incomes); Residents of small cities, large cities or suburban areas (39%, compared to 27% who live in towns or rural areas). Middle aged (38% of those aged 35 to 54, compared to 26% of those under 35 and 32% of those age 55 and over); Democrat (38%, compared to 27% of Republicans and 32% of independents); College-educated Iowans (38%, compared to 24% among those with no more than a high school education); and Female (37%, compared to 28% of men); The data show a few obvious groups more likely than average to report having requested a government document: Households with government officials or employees (38%, compared to 31% of those without a government connection); Those most knowledgeable of the law (47% of those who know a great deal or a fair amount about the open records and meetings law, compared to 26% who know just some or nothing at all about the law). About one in three Iowans also expect to make a request within the next five years. While this is common among some of the same demographic groups as had requested documents in the past, a few new dynamics emerge. This table shows three groups who anticipate requesting documents in greater numbers in the future than they have in the past. The highest income bracket is one of the few to anticipate lower use for government documents in the future than in the past, making other income groups look more interested.

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Q.10 AND Q.11: SELECTED SUBGROUPS: EVER REQUESTED OR


ANTICIPATE REQUESTING GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS

All Age under 35 Tea Party supporters Income under $70,000 Income $70,000 and over

Have Requested in Past % 33 26 32 27 45

Anticipate Requesting within Next 5 Years % 35 43 41 34 40

Difference in Percentage Points +2 +17 +9 +7 -5

One other finding is worth noting. Interest in requesting in the future is modestly higher among political independents, growing from 32% who have requested in the past to 37% who expect to request in the next five years. This is of interest mostly because this group is not strongly aligned with either party, with seemingly no political agenda. The table above notes that Tea Party supporters also show upward movement in predicted requests of government documents. Costs for copies of records are not considered much of an issue. Three findings support this. First, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, Iowans say requesters should pay. Sixty-two percent (62%) say that the costs for providing copies of government documents should be paid by the requester; 33% say these costs should be considered part of standard government work in existing budgets. Those who think the requester should pay for costs of copies are more likely to be: Higher income Iowans (72% among those reporting household incomes of $70,000 and over, compared to 49% of those reporting incomes under $30,000); College-educated Iowans (71%, compared to 55% among those with no more than a high school education); In a government household (69%, compared to 60% of those without a government employee or official in the household); Older (68% of those aged 65 and over, compared to 56% of those under 35); Female (67%, compared to 57% of men); and Town- and city-dwellers (64%, compared to 55% who live in rural areas). Second, costs are not considered a barrier to open access. Two in three Iowans (64%) say it is their sense that charging for government documents makes no difference to the number of requests made for government documents; just one in three (33%) say charging for copies makes it less likely citizens or media will make requests. On this question, findings are fairly uniform across demographic groups. And third, a majority of Iowans say charging for copies is a legitimate way for governments to recover costs associated with providing copies (57%).

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Iowans who are more likely than average to believe that charging these expenses is more a way to attempt to keep government documents secret include those who: Earn less (49% in the lowest income bracket, compared to 26% who earn $70,000 or more annually). Are less educated (46% among those with no more than a high school education, compared to 24% with at least a college degree); Are younger (41% of those under age 35, compared to 30% of those ages 55 and over); and Dont have a government official or employee in the household (37%, compared to 25% of government households). Interpretation This survey did not provide information on how much time requests sometimes take or how much government offices sometimes charge. Out of that specific context (which could have led respondents to a different conclusion), most Iowans see fairness is asking requesters to pay. If IFOIC has a different view, it will need to make the case, as the starting position for Iowans favors requesters covering costs. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council The profile of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council is low, but Iowans support its goals. Asked how much they happen to know about IFOIC, just 12% report knowing a great deal (2%) or a fair amount (10%). A majority of 58% say they know nothing at all, with 29% saying they know just some. Even among those who say they know a great deal or a fair amount about the open records and meetings law, just 26% are knowledgeable about the IFOIC. Asked about their support for two changes the IFOIC seeks, strong majorities favor both. A full 84% say they favor giving government offices more necessary training and resources to efficiently comply with open meetings and open records requests. Two in three (67%) favor creating a board in state government to handle citizen complaints about violations of open meetings and access to government documents. This second change is slightly more controversial among Republicans, with half favoring (50%) and almost as many opposing (46%). That is the lowest support of any demographic group. Even Tea Party supporters, who could be expected to oppose the creation of any new state board, favor 59% to 34%. Increasing Support for the IFOICs Mission Open records are a taxpayer right. The best-tested argument in favor of more openness, rated as excellent by 70% of Iowans, is that as taxpayers, they have the right to know how tax dollars are spent. The next best arguments cluster with ratings between 52% and 54% excellent. They are supported, however, by different demographic groups worth noting. In a democracy, government processes should be open to the public.
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54% say this is an excellent reason for more openness, including: 62% of those who know a great deal or a fair amount about the law; and 61% of government households. We can trust our government more when we know how it works and where decisions are made. 54% say this is an excellent reason, including: 60% of Tea Party supporters Open meetings/records laws force government officials and employees to be accountable to the public and discourage wrong-doing. 53% say this is an excellent reason, including: 60% of residents of Iowas 3rd Congressional District; 59% of those reporting household incomes of $70,000 or more annually; 59% of those who have requested documents in the past; 58% of likely voters; and 58% of those age 35 to 54. Open meetings and records laws help educate voters so they will make wise decisions when they vote. 52% say this is an excellent reason for more openness, including: 59% of those reporting household incomes of $50,000-$69,999; and 57% of Democrats. The worst-testing argument is that government by the people means the people own the documents and are invited to meetings, by definition. 41% say this is an excellent reason for openness, including: 51% of Tea Party supporters; 47% of residents of Iowas 2nd Congressional District; 46% Iowans age 35 to 44; and 46% of government households.

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Interpretation These are fine nuances indeed; yet some themes work much better than others. The right to openness appears most strongly linked to the idea that taxpayers have a right to know how their dollars are spent. This argument works even better with government employees and officials. While it seems inherently linked to government by the people, in fact, Iowans see these two trains of thought differently. To be clear, there is no loser among any of these arguments. When we combine excellent and good, we get 87% support for the worst-tested argument. This analysis, however, shows the strongest lead in generating support. No argument against openness scores well. To get a sense of how demographic groups respond differently to different approaches, we combined excellent and good ratings for arguments against more openness and access. With arguments in favor, we had the luxury to look just at excellent scores. Here is the rank order, with key demographic differences. Sometimes privacy needs to be protected at the expense of open meetings and access to government records. 66% say this is an excellent or good reason for less openness, including: 74% of Iowans under age 35; and 71% of residents of Iowas 3rd Congressional District. Sometimes, better and more efficient decisions are made when government officials can hash out their differences in private. 50% say this is an excellent or good reason for less openness, including: 56% of those under age 35; 56% of those in the lowest income group (under $30,000 per year); and 55% of Iowans age 65 and over. Some citizens abuse open meetings and access to government documents with nuisance requests and long-winded speeches just to be annoying. 48% say this is an excellent or good reason for less openness, including the largest number who say excellent (17%) and: 54% of residents of rural areas; 54% of residents of metro areas; 53% of Iowans age 55 and over; 53% of Republicans; and 53% of those in the lowest income group (under $30,000 per year). With the increase of electronic records, more and more information is created, making it more expensive for government offices to make copies upon request. 35% say this is an excellent or good reason for less openness, including; 44% of those age 65 and over; 42% of residents of Iowas 4th Congressional District; and 41% of those with no more than a high school education.

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Government employees may get distracted from other aspects of their jobs by requests for documents. 28% say this is an excellent or good reason for less openness, including; 42% of Iowans age 65 and over; 36% of rural residents; 33% of independents; and 33% of those with no more than a high school education. Interpretation As IFOIC plans how it wants to elevate public awareness of open records and open meetings laws, it is likely a good idea to acknowledge the necessarily tension between privacy and openness. When it comes to taxpayer money, however, it is just too risky for government to operate in secrecy. While this argument loses in a head-to-head test in another part of the questionnaire, it is always wise to acknowledge that those who have opposing views may have a legitimate point, but that it is outweighed by the greater good of openness.

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Q.15: REASONS FOR MORE OPENNESS AND ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT MEETINGS AND RECORDS Excellent Reason % 70 54 54 53

%
76 62 61 60 59 60 59 59 58 58 59 57 51 47 46 46

Groups most likely


Inc: $50-69K Law: know a great deal/fair amount Govt employee/elected official in HH Tea Party supporter Inc: $30-49K CD3 Inc: $70K+ Requested docs in past Likely voter Age 35-54 Inc: $50-69K Democrat Tea Party supporter CD2 Age 35-54 Govt employee/elected official in HH

As a taxpayer, you have the right to know how your tax dollars are spent In a democracy, government processes should be open to the public We can trust our government more when we know how it works and when and where decisions are made Open meetings and records laws force government officials and employees to be accountable to the public and discourage wrongdoing Open meetings and records laws help educate voters so they will make wise decisions when they vote A government by the people means the people own the documents and are invited to meetings, by definition

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Table 2.
Q.16: REASONS WHY OPENNESS AND ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT MEETINGS AND RECORDS
COULD BE A PROBLEM

Sometimes privacy needs to be protected at the expense of open meetings and access to government records Sometimes, better and more efficient decisions are made when government officials can hash out their differences in private Some citizens abuse open meetings and access to government documents with nuisance requests and long-winded speeches just to be annoying With the increase of electronic records, more and more information is created, making it more expensive for government offices to make copies upon request Government employees may get distracted from other aspects of their jobs by requests for documents

Excellent or Good Reason % 66 (14) 50 (10) 48 (17)

%
74 73 71 56 56 55 54 54 53 53 53 44 42 41 40 42 36 33 33

Groups most likely


Age <35 Inc: $30-49K CD3 Age <35 Inc: <$30K Age 65+ Rural Metro Age 55+ Republican Inc: <$30K Age 65+ CD4 <=HS grad Inc: $30-49K Age 65+ Rural Independent <=HS grad 22 Inc: $50-69K 19 Age 65+ 19 CD1

35 (6) 28 (6)

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