United States


Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With its low-tax, low-regulation, trade-focused regime, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 15) with regard to economic policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.5 points since 2014.

GDP and employment growth have been moderate, but slower than in previous recoveries. Unemployment has fallen to low levels by OECD comparison. However, jobless rates are much higher among racial minorities and in central cities.

The tax system does not produce sufficient revenue, and is highly responsive to special interests. Redistributive effects are low, and a large share of revenue comes from corporate taxes. Budget policy has been extremely contentious, though 2015 saw agreements on deficit cuts and reductions in the future growth of benefits. Long-term deficits and debt levels are unsustainable.

R&D funding has stagnated, though at relatively high levels. The country has taken a lead in shaping international financial-market rules.

Social Policies

With significant weaknesses, the United States falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 25) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Severe educational inequalities in high- and low-income areas are evident, with outcomes disappointing generally. Rising university costs have created severe access issues. Income inequality has increased dramatically. Poverty rates are comparatively high. Anti-poverty policies rely on tax instruments, which reduces their effect for the non-working poor.

Obama’s health care policy has expanded coverage, but remains highly controversial. Families with children receive significant tax benefits, but direct family policy is minimal. The employment rate for women is high, but is slipping behind other OECD countries. Ideological stalemate has prevented pension-system sustainability reforms.

Efforts to pass immigration reforms have failed. Large-city homicide rates and gun violence in general are serious problems, and the phenomenon of excessive police violence against blacks has drawn increasing attention.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States scores relatively poorly (rank 33) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Climate change has proven a major stumbling block, with many Americans rejecting large-scale emissions-control strategies. However, piecemeal efforts by individual states, increased fuel-economy standards and coal-plant regulations, and increased use of natural gas have resulted in emissions reductions consistent with international expectations.

New federal power-plant regulations will effectively phase out coal use. The Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposal to carry bitumen from Canadian tar sands that environmentalists had criticized.

In 2014, the country committed to reducing emissions by 26% to 28% in comparison with 2005 levels. A 2013 bilateral agreement with China will limit use of hydrofluorocarbons by both parties.



Quality of Democracy

Despite persistent electoral and civil-rights concerns, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 10) regarding democracy quality. After a sharp drop last year, its score on this measure has marginally recovered, now representing a 0.3-point decline relative to 2014.

Media access is formally fair, but paid advertising dominates political campaigns. Many states have implemented measures making it harder for some groups to register and vote. Campaign-contribution limits have increasingly been overturned, leading to vast, often unaccountable private spending on elections.

Civil rights are generally protected, but government wiretapping and Internet surveillance has been broad. Speech codes are a contentious issue on university campuses. National attention has been focused on police violence against blacks.

Anti-discrimination laws are generally robust. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in all 50 states. Congressional deadlocks have led to increased use of unilateral executive orders. Anti-corruption mechanisms are typically effective, though imperfect.



Executive Capacity

With its powerful presidency, the United States receives high rankings in international comparison (rank 7) with respect to executive capacity. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Strategic-planning capacity is strong. The vast presidential bureaucracy increasingly dominates policy development, leaving departments with a subordinate role. Informal coordination is important.

RIAs are widely applied, but politically biased. Societal consultation is routine at all policy-development stages, though achieving consensus is not the goal. Congressional polarization has made passage of executive policies difficult, and several major policies have experienced implementation glitches or poor performance.

States largely raise their own revenues, and service standards vary. Unfunded federal mandates have diminished. Presidents often develop new institutions to adapt to new challenges. While the government’s basic organizational structures are by contrast resistant to reform, deep polarization and partisan deadlock have led to considerable debate over the necessity of change.

Executive Accountability

Despite concerns over the implications of an uninformed public, the United States receives a high overall score (rank 11) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Citizens’ policy knowledge is on average quite low. Serious, in-depth policy reporting exists, but a decline in journalistic standards is evident, particularly in the right-leaning media.

Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal executive-oversight powers are strong. The General Accountability Office is independent and influential, with other offices performing additional audit functions. No specific ombuds office exists.

Party candidates are chosen democratically. Economic and noneconomic interest associations are often sophisticated and media-savvy.
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