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 16) with regard to economic policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.6 points since 2014.

The economy has continued a long, slow recovery from the recession, with only moderate growth. Unemployment is at pre-recession levels, but many workers are underemployed or have left the workforce, and jobless rates are high among racial minorities and in central cities. Declining productivity growth and rising inequality have undermined growth for low- and middle-income families.

The tax system does not produce sufficient revenue, and is highly responsive to special interests. Redistributive effects are minimal, and a large share of revenue comes from corporate taxes. Partisan deadlock has prevented reform, locking in a budgetary combination of insufficient short-term stimulus and a serious lack of long-term discipline. 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 0.3 points relative to 2014.

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

Obama’s health care program expanded coverage, but partisan opposition remains intense. Sharp premium increases and some insurance-company dropouts signaled the need for restructuring. Despite tax benefits for families with children, direct family policy is minimal. The employment rate for women is high.

Ideological stalemate has prevented pension-system sustainability reforms. An Obama policy halting many illegal-immigrant deportations was deemed unconstitutional, while Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric inflamed racial tensions. Large-city homicide rates and gun violence in general are serious problems, and the phenomenon of police violence against blacks has drawn increasing attention.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States scores in the bottom ranks internationally (rank 39) 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. The country joined the Paris agreement on climate change, but Congress blocked Obama’s proposed climate-change rules, and a federal court struck down measures to restrict coal-burning power plants.

Under Obama, new fuel-economy standards and other piecemeal efforts kept the country on track to reach emissions reductions consistent with international expectations by 2020. However, as a candidate, Donald Trump embraced an extreme version of climate-change denial, and promised to roll back environmental regulations.

In 2014, the country committed to reducing emissions by 26% to 28% in comparison with 2005 levels. It played a leading role in the 2015 UN climate conference, but still lacks a comprehensive carbon-pricing policy.



Quality of Democracy

Despite the increasing depth of political stalemate, the United States scores well overall (rank 12) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

Media access is formally fair, but paid advertising dominates political campaigns. Donald Trump’s celebrity status gave him vastly disproportionate free air time in the 2016 election. A majority of states have implemented measures making it harder for some groups to register and vote. Loose campaign-finance laws lead to vast, often unaccountable private spending on elections.

Civil rights are generally protected, but government wiretapping and Internet surveillance has been broad. National attention has been focused on discriminatory conduct by local police and criminal justice systems. Anti-discrimination laws are generally robust, and same-sex marriage has been legalized in all 50 states.

Congressional deadlocks have led to increased use of unilateral executive orders, some of which were overturned by courts. Departing from past practice, Congress refused to take action to confirm a Supreme Court vacancy, intensifying the partisan nature of appointments.



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. Political polarization prevented Obama from securing enactment of most of his legislative priorities, and undermined implementation of key programs such as health care reform.

RIAs are widely applied, but can be politically biased. Environmental considerations often figure prominently. Societal consultation is routine but informal at all policy-development stages, though achieving consensus is not the goal.

States largely raise their own revenues, and service standards vary. Unfunded federal mandates have become less common. Presidents often develop new institutions to adapt to new challenges. While basic organizational structures are resistant to reform, the deep polarization and partisan deadlock have led to considerable debate over possible changes, such as abolition of the Senate filibuster.

Executive Accountability

Despite concerns over the implications of an uninformed public, the United States receives a high overall score (rank 9) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Citizens’ policy-knowledge levels are on average quite low. Serious, in-depth policy reporting exists, but a decline in journalistic standards is evident, particularly in the right-leaning media. Economic pressures have led to significant cutbacks in print-journalism jobs.

Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal executive-oversight powers are strong, although legislative staff cuts reflect increasing reliance on ideological think tanks for policy advice. 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. Party platforms are produced at conventions every four years, but have little influence. Economic and noneconomic interest associations are often sophisticated and media-savvy.
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