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. However, a tax cut policy focused on cuts for corporations and high-income individuals was passed in late 2017, sharply increasing the already unsustainable long-term deficit.

President Trump’s sustained attack on foreign trade led to revisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, after the imposition of tariffs on Mexico and Canada. Similarly, he provoked a trade war with China, imposing major tariffs that produced a retaliatory response. Lesser conflicts targeted the European Union and Japan.

Unemployment continued to decline to about 4%, with rates much higher among minorities and in inner cities. Under current policy, the deficit is projected to continue increasing over the next 10 years, reaching 5.7% of GDP by 2028. Total U.S. R&D spending is at a record high, with the federal share at a historic low. Banking oversight has been relaxed, allowing risky banking practices to resume.

Social Policies

With significant weaknesses, the United States falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014.

Educational inequalities between high- and low-income areas are severe, with performance generally disappointing. Federal education programs have been cut by more than $10 billion, with some funding redirected to school-choice initiatives. 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.

Republican attacks on Obama-era health reforms have 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, with Trump showing active rhetorical hostility toward immigrants. The separation of migrant children from parents has produced a human-rights scandal. Large-city homicide rates and large-scale gun violence are serious problems, with Congress failing to pass legislation tightening weapons regulations.

Environmental Policies

Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States sits at the SGI 2019’s lowest position (rank 41) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has declined by 1.2 points relative to 2014.

The Trump administration has been a rapidly escalating disaster for environmental policy. The Republican president has embraced climate-change denial and withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Hard-line opponents of environmental regulation have been appointed to top environmental positions, and many regulations have been reversed without analysis. 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 sought 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 now-routine flouting of political norms, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) 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, generally minorities, 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. Congress passed a bill reducing excessive sentences for many nonviolent offenses.

The Senate’s confirmation of two conservative Republican Supreme Court justices has highlighted the partisan and ideological nature 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 28) with respect to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 2.0 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 executive branch has seen calamitous failures of coordination in issues such as hurricane response and border control.

Impact analysis has largely been abandoned at the administration level, with sustainability checks manipulated, ignored or avoided. The White House press office has been heavily engaged in defending or obscuring Trump’s many false claims and inconsistencies. Severe staffing deficiencies have diminished monitoring capacities.

Trump had few legislative victories in his first two years, with major policy initiatives instead implemented through executive order. Executive actions were frequently blocked by courts. Regulatory agencies have been staffed with appointees with strong ties to regulated industries. Regulatory enforcement in certain areas, such as the environment or workplace safety, has largely ceased.

Executive Accountability

Despite concerns related to the polarization of political reasoning, the United States receives a high overall score (rank 7) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points relative to its 2014 level.

Citizens’ policy-knowledge levels are on average quite low, with “partisan motivated reasoning” an increasing concern. 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.”

Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal powers are strong. The Republican Congress largely eschewed executive-branch oversight during Trump’s first two years. The influential General Accountability Office performs audit functions. No specific ombuds office exists. There is no national data-protection authority, but the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general and sectoral agencies fulfill aspects of the function.

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. Labor-union staff capacity has declined over decades, reducing the interest representation of low-income people.
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