United States


Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Showing increasing problems of fiscal unsustainability, the United States receives middling scores overall (rank 24) with regard to economic policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.3 points since 2014.

A moderately expansionary fiscal policy and steady low interest rates helped sustain economic growth. Markets posted strong gains, buoyed by the Trump administration’s promises of tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks. The country pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and uncertainty about future trade relations has grown substantially.

Unemployment continued to decline to about 5%, paired with the first gains in average wages in two decades. Unemployment rates are much higher among minorities and in inner cities. A major tax cut was passed shortly after the end of the review period, and is expected to produce large increases in budget deficits.

The government and Republicans have proposed domestic spending cuts, but these do not cover the costs of the tax cuts. Overall R&D spending has reached record highs, but the government share is at a historic low. Trump has sought to relax post-crisis banking regulations, and has ceased support for the G-20 Financial Stability Board (FSB).

Social Policies

With significant weaknesses, the United States scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 30) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

Severe educational inequalities between high- and low-income areas are evident, with performance generally disappointing. Rising university costs have created severe access issues, particularly for poorer students. Income inequality has increased dramatically. Programs for the poor have been cut, and child poverty is a serious problem, with 1.3 million children homeless in the country.

Republican efforts to repeal Obama-era health insurance reforms failed. Continued uncertainty has hampered the stabilization of health insurance markets. 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.

The Trump administration has taken numerous steps to cut legal and illegal immigration, and Trump himself has shown active rhetorical hostility toward immigrants. 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 has fallen to the SGI 2018’s lowest position (rank 41) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has declined by 0.9 points relative to 2014.

The Trump administration has been a rapidly escalating disaster for environmental policy. The Republican president announced the country would cease participation in the Paris climate agreement, and is trying to rejuvenate the coal industry.

Hard-line opponents of environmental regulation have been appointed to top environmental positions, and many regulations have been reversed. The Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific and expert staff has been decimated, and many regulations that remain are unlikely to be enforced.

A number of individual states have indicated their intentions to continue efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, under Trump, there is unlikely to be leadership or even cooperation from the United States federal government in international climate-change efforts.



Quality of Democracy

Despite the administration’s newly routine flouting of political norms, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 18) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.0 point relative to 2014.

The media has become a highly polarized, contested environment, with conservative broadcasters adopting Trump’s often misleading rhetoric, and other outlets castigated as “fake news.” Trump has personally threatened news organizations in various ways. Loose campaign-finance laws lead to vast, often unaccountable private spending on elections.

A majority of states have implemented measures making it harder for some groups to register and vote. The Trump administration has rolled back anti-discrimination rules. Numerous policies have been implemented and regulations canceled through the use of unilateral executive actions. The prospect of judicial appeals will undermine legal certainty for years.

The Republican Senate’s refusal to act on Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, and subsequent confirmation of Trump’s, highlighted the newly partisan character of the federal judiciary. However, courts continue to act independently in blocking some administration policies. The new administration has shown a brazen and unprecedented disregard of conflict-of-interest norms.



Executive Capacity

With a worrisome degree of chaos at top executive levels, the United States has fallen to the lower-middle ranks (rank 27) with respect to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.8 points relative to 2014.

President Trump has shown virtually no interest in long-range planning. Executive decision-making does not follow orderly processes. The Republican congress has drafted key measures in secret, avoiding public discussion. Agencies have suffered massive losses of expert staff. The lack of experienced top personnel has increased informal coordination, such as within Trump’s family and business networks.

Impact analysis has largely been abandoned at the administration level. Regulations and Obama-era decisions have been aggressively reversed on the basis of minimal analysis. Republican legislators have pursued a policy agenda opposed by relevant interest groups and the public. White House communication has very often perpetuated false claims or outright lies.

Legislative successes have been extremely limited, due to divisions within the Republican party. Trump’s executive actions have frequently been blocked by courts. The new administration has sharply reduced engagement in international forums and agreements. Executive structures have been exceptionally casual and unstable.

Executive Accountability

Despite concerns over the implications of an uninformed public, the United States receives a high overall score (rank 6) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

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 a right-leaning media that echoes Trump’s constant claim that mainstream news organizations are reporting “fake news.” 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. Interest associations are often sophisticated and media-savvy.
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