Majority of state residents unaware of “sunshine” laws

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More than half of North Carolinians are unaware that state laws exist to allow public access to government records, according to the latest Elon University Poll, but nearly all respondents feel democracy is best when it operates openly.

The poll, conducted March 15-19, surveyed 620 North Carolina residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. Respondents were polled during Sunshine Week, an effort by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to educate citizens about open government and access to records.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they are not familiar with Sunshine Laws – rules for open meetings and access to government records – in North Carolina. Despite the lack of awareness, most citizens see the value of public access to records. Sixty-eight percent said this kind of access is “very important,” while 88 percent feel open records and meetings keep government operations honest.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents rejected the notion that closed records and meetings allow government to get things done more effectively. While the majority of citizens advocate for government transparency, 77 percent feel exceptions should be made if such action will aid the war on terrorism.

More than half of respondents (52 percent) have attempted to gain access to public documents in the past. Of these individuals, 83 percent were successful in their efforts.

Issues facing North Carolina and approval ratings

The economy remained the top concern facing North Carolinians surveyed as part of the same poll, with 44 percent of residents identifying it as the most vital issue facing the state. Twenty-six percent of respondents identified jobs and unemployment as the most significant issue for North Carolinians.

Most North Carolinians approve of President Obama’s handling of his job, the economy and the war in Iraq.

Sixty-one percent of residents say they approve of the way Obama is performing. Fifty-eight percent of respondents approve of President Obama’s handling of the economy, while 35 percent disapprove. Obama has gained the support of North Carolinians in regard to the war in Iraq, with 65 percent approving of how he is handling the conflict. Even with this support in place, 44 percent felt that the nation is more at risk of future terrorist attacks.

North Carolinians believe Obama’s plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq is appropriate, with 68 percent supporting the policy.

When asked whether the war in Iraq was worth fighting:

  • 54 percent of respondents indicated it was not worth fighting.
  • 40 percent stand behind the war.

“Despite the gloomy outlook on national affairs, North Carolinians maintain their confidence in the new president’s leadership on both the economy and the war in Iraq,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll.

Fifty three percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the Democratic members of the state General Assembly are doing, with 26 percent disapproving. Conversely, the Republicans received an approval rating of 41 percent, while 37 percent of those polled disapproved of their performance.

Respondents were asked about the effectiveness of North Carolina Senate and House leadership. The results were as follows:

Leadership in the N.C. House of Representatives

  • 50 percent approve of the job by House leadership
  • 23 percent disapprove of the job by House leadership

Leadership in the N.C. Senate

  • 50 percent approve of the job by Senate leadership
  • 25 percent disapprove of the job by Senate leadership

North Carolinians also asked about the performance of their House and Senate representatives in the state legislature. The results were as follows:

State House Representatives

  • 56 percent approve of their performance
  • 10 percent disapprove of their performance

State Senate Representatives

  • 58 percent approve of their performance
  • 18 percent disapprove of their performance