Nine out of 10 people in North Carolina support the idea of police officers wearing body cameras while on duty and nearly two thirds of residents believe footage should be made available to the public, according to the latest Elon University Poll.
While there was near-unanimous agreement about the concept of police body cameras, the release of that footage varied along ideological and racial lines. And the public is almost evenly split in its approval of local police departments utilizing unmanned aerial drones for surveillance.
The live-caller, dual frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 867 North Carolina residents from Feb. 16-20, 2015, has a margin of error of 3.33 percentage points.
Though 91 percent of respondents say they support on-duty police officers wearing body cameras, only 63 percent believe footage should be made public. Political persuasion may sway attitudes about the public release of videos as 70 percent of Democrats favor such transparency, while only 48 percent of Republicans feel the same. A divide is also found by race. Seventy-eight percent of African-American respondents said videos should be made available to the public compared to 58 percent of whites.
For unmanned aerial drones, the North Carolina public is evenly divided. Forty-seven percent of respondents approve of police departments using drones; 45 percent disagree with the policy. A slight partisan difference exists on the question: 56 percent of Republicans approve of drones, compared to 46 percent of Democrats.
Every other year since 2009, the Elon University Poll has coordinated with the N.C. Sunshine Center to survey North Carolinians about open government and public record laws prior to Sunshine Week, a weeklong national series of programs and events focused on government transparency. In addition to traditional questions about awareness of open government laws and trust in government, the Elon University Poll this year asked for opinions toward records associated with policy body cameras and drones.
“Support for police body cameras is nearly universal and is clearly a response to increased media attention on police shootings, especially the incident in Ferguson, Mo.,” said Assistant Professor Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll. “And while national surveys have shown substantial support for the use of unmanned aerial drones for surveillance in other countries, the Elon Poll found support is far more limited when discussing their use by local law enforcement here in the United States.”
A majority of North Carolinians (62 percent) are unaware that “sunshine laws” exist for the public inspection of government records. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they feel it is important to get any document they want from the government. Other findings include:
- 76 percent of respondents believe the names of those who donate to political campaigns should be public;
- 69 percent support an amendment to the state constitution that makes the business of any government body in North Carolina open and available to the public;
- 69 percent believe all government meetings should be open to the public.
“Sunshine laws are foundational in a democracy because they provide the path for citizens to inform themselves about their government,” said Jonathan Jones, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, which runs the Sunshine Center. “These poll results show that a great deal of work remains to educate North Carolinians about their right to know how their governments and elected leaders do business.”
The closer to home, the greater the trust.
Poll respondents trust their local governments more than state or federal governments. Fifty-three percent of North Carolinians said they trusted their governments to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time,” compared to 32 percent for the state government and 22 percent for the federal government.
Trust in the federal government has risen over the past two years. The same question in 2013 found only 14 percent of respondents trusted those in Washington to do what was right at least most of the time.
“Trust in the federal government is up since our last open government survey, but that survey was conducted shortly after the 2013 federal government shutdown when approval ratings for the president and Congress were remarkably low,” Fernandez said.
Trust in government shows partisan and generational splits. Democrats have greater trust in the federal government compared to independents or Republicans, and younger respondents are generally more trustful of the federal government compared to their older counterparts.
Republicans show more trust in state government compared to Democrats. Trust in local government was bipartisan, with just over half of Republicans, Democrats and independents believing in their local officials.
African-American respondents (31 percent) trusted the federal government more than white respondents (19 percent), while the reverse was true for state and local governments.
Nearly seven out of 10 respondents believe more corruption exists today than 100 years ago, indicating a high level of pessimism and distrust toward government in the general public. The pessimism is bipartisan, with more than two thirds of Democrats, Republicans and independents reporting such attitudes.