Despite collective fury over NSA spying and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and possible end run around public records laws, Americans don’t really care that much about how open the government is with their data.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, Americans aren’t confident that open access to government data will improve the country. Only 53 percent believe that government transparency will make public officials more accountable, Pew found. Americans were split on whether sharing government data would improve government services, and just 45 percent thought doing so would result in better decisions from government officials.
The goal of Pew’s poll was to determine how aware Americans were of the government’s data transparency efforts on the local, state and federal levels and whether they made government more accountable.
The results showed, like with many things, people care most about things that directly affect their lives as long as it wasn’t about them. Sixty-two percent supported sharing data on individuals’ criminal history but only 22 percent wanted their mortgage data or individual homeowner information to be shared. Another 60 percent thought sharing teacher performance data was a good idea.
But overall, Americans couldn’t care less about data-sharing. Despite wanting that information available, barely one in five Americans checked up on performance of students or teachers, or hospitals or health care providers using government data sources. That could likely be attributed to growing distrust the majority Americans have of their government.
More than three in four Americans don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, Pew found. Confidence in government also runs along party lines with Republicans being more distrustful of the benefits of government sharing data than Democrats.
Pew divided respondents into four categories: Ardent Optimists, who see the potential in government data sharing; Committed Cynics, those who use the data available but don’t think much of it; Buoyant Bystanders, the ones who think data sharing is a good idea but won’t access it; and Doubters, those who don’t use government data and think it’s useless.
Most respondents, 36 percent, were labeled doubters, followed by 27 percent who were bystanders, and cynics holding strong at 20 percent. Optimists came in last place with 17 percent believing government data sharing is a step in the right direction.