US citizens want think tanks to be transparent about who their donors are, as a new study from We are Flint, a communications consultancy shows. This demand for transparency is particularly pronounced among those that know what think tanks do. The many quality think tanks that are transparent thus do respond to a broader public expectation, and not just to a niche demand from advocacy groups.
The reason why this issue of transparency is important is because only a fifth of Americans trust think tanks, and a further 56% don't know whether to trust them or not, according to the survey, which had more than 2000 respondents. Transparency, by itself, does not ensure trust, but is a necessary step towards it.
More educated people are keener on think tank transparency itself, as the chart below shows.
More educated people also know more about think tanks. 57% of those with college degrees agree that they know what think tanks are. Only 20% of those without high school diploma agreed that they knew about think tanks.
Notably, the survey found that people in rural and urban areas were equally supportive of think tanks disclosing their funding. Given the preponderance of conservatives in rural areas and liberals in urban areas in the US, this suggests that transparency is supported across the partisan divide. (We are Flint likely will publish more data and detail in the near future.)
As We are Flint points out, more work needs to be done to communicate the work of think tanks to a broader audience. That finding, of course, lines up neatly with the kind of work that a communications consultancy does. The upside? We are Flint, unlike some hold-out opaque think tanks, is transparent about this.
Read the report here.