United States

PR Political Rights 33 40
CL Civil Liberties 50 60
Last Year's Score & Status
83 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

The United States is a federal republic whose people benefit from a vibrant political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties. However, in recent years its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in rising political polarization and extremism, partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, harmful policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • Investigations into the violent aftermath of the 2020 presidential election continued throughout the year. Hundreds of people were convicted of crimes linked to the January 2021 insurrection, in which supporters of then president Donald Trump assaulted the Capitol and attempted to disrupt congressional certification of Joseph Biden’s victory. A special congressional committee completed its inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the attack in December, referring Trump and several key allies to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.
  • Midterm elections in November resulted in divided control of Congress, with the Republican Party winning a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and the Democratic Party retaining a working majority in the Senate. While hundreds of Republican candidates for offices across the country explicitly and groundlessly denied the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump, most of those whose election would have given them influence over administration of the 2024 presidential balloting lost their races.
  • In June, the Supreme Court overturned a 1972 decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion, thereby returning the issue to the states. New or existing laws that took effect in many states reduced access to abortion, and at least 12 states imposed near-total bans on the procedure.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

The president, who serves as both head of state and head of government, is elected for up to two four-year terms. Presidential elections are decided by an Electoral College, with electors apportioned to each state based on the size of its congressional representation. In most cases, all of the electors in a particular state cast their ballots for the candidate who won the statewide popular vote, regardless of the margin. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, have chosen to divide their electoral votes between the candidates based on their popular-vote performance in each congressional district.

In the 2020 election, Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, won 306 Electoral College votes, leaving Trump, the Republican incumbent, with 232. Biden defeated Trump by more than seven million votes, or approximately 4.4 percentage points, in the national popular balloting. Turnout was the highest recorded in more than a century, with roughly two-thirds of the eligible population casting a ballot.

The COVID-19 pandemic compelled many states to increase access to early and mail-in voting, partly to help prevent dangerous crowding at polling sites. This led to a series of legal battles, with the Trump campaign and other Republican litigants generally arguing against the changes and claiming that they would open the door to fraud. The balloting itself unfolded with few significant disruptions, though existing obstacles to voting—such as strict voter-identification requirements and inadequate numbers of polling sites—remained a factor. Meanwhile, the federal government assisted states in safeguarding ballots and computer networks against foreign and other illegal interference, while social media companies made greater efforts to thwart election-related disinformation campaigns by foreign actors on their platforms. These measures were generally deemed successful.

Rejecting a vote-tabulation process that was lauded by observers as transparent and professional, in the weeks after the election Trump refused to concede, continued to allege fraud, and openly pressured election officials in pivotal states to make decisions that would support his claims regardless of the facts and the law. During the counting and certification process, state election workers reported intimidation and death threats. A raft of lawsuits by the Trump campaign and its allies were almost universally dismissed by state and federal courts. Evidence of large-scale fraud was nonexistent, but the Trump camp’s disinformation, complemented by the reluctance of leading Republicans to explicitly acknowledge Biden as the president-elect, helped to convince many Trump supporters that voter fraud was widespread and Biden was not the rightful winner.

Evidence later emerged regarding last-ditch efforts to overturn the results, including machinations by Trump and allied officials or lawyers to involve the Justice Department and other government agencies in supporting the president’s fraud claims, to enlist then vice president Mike Pence in blocking certification of Biden’s victory, and to work with Republican activists to put forward illegitimate pro-Trump slates of electors in states that Biden won.

Trump administration officials and allies also encouraged resistance to Biden’s victory from voters and citizen groups, culminating on January 6, 2021, when several thousand Trump supporters assembled near the White House for a “Save America” rally. Following inflammatory speeches by Trump and others, the crowd converged on the US Capitol as the counting of the Electoral College ballots proceeded. Upon encountering an inadequate deployment of police, the group turned violent, using both concealed and improvised weapons to break through barricades, assault police officers, and forcibly enter the Capitol, where intruders searched for lawmakers, vandalized offices, and occupied the Senate chamber as members were evacuated. The group was dispersed after several hours, following the delayed arrival of the National Guard. In all, seven people died in connection with the attack, including a policeman who suffered strokes after clashing with the mob and a rioter who was shot by police near the House chamber. Nearly 140 police officers were injured, as were scores of civilians.

Among Republicans, a divide emerged in the weeks after the election between state officials involved in administering the balloting, who generally defended the fairness of the process and the accuracy of the results, and many members of Congress, who gave credence to Trump’s claims and cast doubt on Biden’s victory. When Congress reconvened late on January 6 to complete the Electoral College count, just eight senators lodged objections to state results, but 139 of the 211 Republicans in the House of Representatives at the time supported baseless objections to the vote counts in at least one state. Biden’s inauguration proceeded without incident on January 20.

The events of January 6 prompted several institutional responses. The following week, the House voted to impeach Trump on the charge of incitement of insurrection, with 10 Republicans joining all 222 Democrats to approve the measure. The ensuing Senate trial concluded in February with Trump’s acquittal, as only 57 of the required 67 senators, including seven Republicans, voted to convict. In July 2021, a House select committee was formed to investigate the January 6 attack; only two Republican House members agreed to join. The select committee defined its mandate broadly, aiming to clarify both the events of January 6 and the wider efforts to overturn the election results.

The January 6 committee interviewed scores of witnesses, issued an array of subpoenas for documents and testimony by Trump administration officials and allies, and between June and October 2022 held public hearings featuring live testimony and recorded depositions. The investigation culminated in a report released in December 2022, which assigned primary responsibility for the violence to Trump and referred him to the Justice Department for possible prosecution on charges that included inciting insurrection and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Republican critics derided the investigation as a partisan smear campaign, and Trump, his top political allies, and high-ranking Republican Party officials refused to comply with subpoenas. The House voted to hold four nonrespondents in contempt of Congress; two were indicted, and one of the two, prominent Trump adviser Steve Bannon, received a four-month jail sentence in October, with an appeal pending.

Other investigations of Trump’s postelection activity accelerated during 2022, including a special grand jury probe of efforts to pressure Georgia officials to alter the state’s election results. In November, US attorney general Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to examine Trump’s role in the planning of the January 6 violence, as well as any criminal liability related to a cache of classified government documents that were recovered in an August raid on his Florida estate. Trump and his allies continued to dismiss all such investigations as political persecution, even as his repeated attempts to block the inquiries in court largely failed.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Elections for the bicameral Congress are generally free and competitive. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members serving two-year terms. The Senate consists of 100 members—two from each of the 50 states—serving six-year terms, with one-third coming up for election every two years. All national legislators are elected directly by voters in the districts or states that they represent.

The capital district, Puerto Rico, and four overseas US territories are each represented by an elected delegate in the House who can perform most legislative functions but cannot participate in floor votes.

Midterm elections were held in November 2022 and resulted in a change of control of the House of Representatives, while the Senate remained under Democratic control. Republicans gained nine House seats, giving them a majority of 222 to the Democrats’ 213. Following a runoff Senate election in Georgia in December, Democrats held 48 Senate seats, and there were two independent senators who generally vote with the Democrats, giving them control of the chamber; one other senator elected as a Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, shifted to independent status following the election. Turnout was approximately 47 percent of eligible voters, nearly matching the relatively high figure from the 2018 midterms.

There were no serious accusations of result-altering fraud in any race in 2022, and most losing candidates quickly conceded, including many of the hundreds of Trump-aligned Republican candidates who continued to deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential results.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

The electoral framework is generally fair, though it is subject to some partisan manipulation. The borders of House districts, which must remain roughly equal in population, are redrawn regularly—typically after each decennial census. In the practice known as partisan gerrymandering, House districts, and those for state legislatures, are crafted to maximize the advantage of the party in power in a given state. The redistricting system varies by state, but in most cases it is overseen by elected officials, and observers have expressed alarm at the growing strategic and technical sophistication of partisan efforts to control redistricting processes and redraw electoral maps. Historically, gerrymandering has also been used as a tool of racial disenfranchisement, specifically targeting Black voters, as well as Hispanic and Native American populations. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 generally prohibits racially discriminatory voting rules, and racial gerrymandering has been subject to reversal by federal courts, but it remains a problem in practice. In February 2022, the Supreme Court allowed Alabama to implement a district map that had been rejected as a racial gerrymander by a lower court; similarly controversial maps in several other states were subsequently upheld by federal judges.

In 2019 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal judiciary has no authority to prevent state politicians from drawing districts to preserve or expand their party’s power. However, some state courts have struck down partisan-gerrymandered maps based on their own constitutions, and a handful of states have established independent bodies to manage redistricting in recent years. Following the finalization of the 2020 census results and corresponding reapportionment, state redistricting occurred in 2021 and 2022, leading to multiple legal battles over gerrymandered maps ahead of the 2022 midterms. Both major parties continued to engage in partisan gerrymandering, but Republicans had greater opportunity to redraw state-level maps because they controlled more state legislatures nationwide, and key maps favoring Democrats were successfully challenged in state courts.

Some states have adopted strict voter-identification laws. These documentation requirements can disproportionately limit participation by poor, elderly, or racial minority voters; people with disabilities; and younger voters, especially college students. Proponents of such laws argue that they prevent voter fraud, despite research showing that fraud is extremely rare. Separately, the closure and consolidation of polling places in several states in recent years have been found to reduce turnout by people who are less able to travel to distant polling locations or wait in long lines.

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of his 2020 defeat and his promotion of false fraud claims spurred a new wave of state electoral legislation: between the beginning of 2021 and October 2022, 21 states—nearly all with Republican-controlled legislatures—had passed 42 new laws that made voting more difficult, with provisions including stricter voter-identification requirements; reduced eligibility for mail-in ballots; and limits on interactions at polling places, such as a ban on offering water to voters waiting in line. Other states, however, moved in the opposite direction, with 12 mostly Democratic-led states passing 19 laws intended to facilitate voting.

An emerging concern since the 2020 election has been efforts by Trump-supporting election deniers to take control of election management authority in states that are closely contested in presidential elections; their opponents argue that such actors could facilitate the partisan subversion of legitimate presidential election outcomes in the future. In the 2022 elections, however, a series of election deniers were defeated in races for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, a key election administration post, in crucial states such as Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada. Separately, a spending bill passed by Congress in December 2022 included reforms designed to minimize the possibility of a constitutional crisis arising from bad-faith interpretations of the ambiguously worded Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law governing congressional validation of the Electoral College votes from the states.

Critics have argued that some components of the US constitution are undemocratic because they violate the principle that each citizen’s vote should carry equal weight. For example, the allocation of two Senate seats to each state regardless of size has meant that senators representing a minority of the population are often able to control the chamber. Because the Electoral College allocates votes to the states based on the size of their congressional delegations, it too is affected by the makeup of the Senate; this makes it possible for a candidate to win the presidency while losing the national popular vote, an outcome that took place in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016. Defenders of these systems argue that they are fundamental to the United States’ constitutional tradition and federal structure, which was designed in part to check the influence of more populous states.

The six-member Federal Election Commission (FEC), whose membership is split between Democrats and Republicans, is tasked with enforcing federal campaign finance laws. Most enforcement actions require four votes, allowing partisan obstruction, and the body has been regarded as largely ineffective in recent years.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

The intensely competitive US political environment is dominated by two major parties: the Republicans on the right and the left-leaning Democrats. The country’s prevailing “first past the post” or majoritarian electoral system discourages the emergence of additional parties. The two parties’ primary elections allow for a relatively broad array of views and candidates to enter the political system, although those in many states exclude unaffiliated voters from this important stage of the electoral process. Both the 2020 and 2022 primaries and general elections featured participation by ideologically diverse candidates across the country.

For the many seats at all levels that are regarded as “safely” Democratic or Republican, due to a combination of geographical sorting and partisan gerrymandering, primaries often represent the main battleground for opposing views. Republican incumbents, especially in the House, have faced sharp competition from more right-wing, sometimes Trump-backed challengers in recent voting cycles, and left-wing Democrats have challenged a number of moderate, party-backed candidates. In 2022, attention focused on the 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment in January 2021. Four members of the group opted to retire, and four were defeated in primaries, including Representative Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the January 6 investigative committee and previously the third-ranked leader of Republicans in the House; the remaining two members managed to win their primaries and were reelected in November.

Independent or third-party candidates have sometimes influenced presidential races or won statewide office, and small parties and ideological factions—such as the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Democratic Socialists of America—have also modestly affected state and local politics in recent years. Several jurisdictions, including Maine, Alaska, and New York City, have adopted ranked-choice voting systems for some posts, which could prove more hospitable to third parties and centrist candidates than the majoritarian system, though in practice the results have generally matched those of the traditional plurality system.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Power changes hands regularly at the federal level, and while certain states and localities are seen as strongholds of one party or the other, even they are subject to intraparty competition and interparty power transfers over time. In the 2022 elections, Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives following two terms of Democratic leadership, but their gains were smaller than expected. Democrats gained the governorships in Maryland and Arizona, leaving them with 24 compared with Republicans’ 26. Republicans maintained control over a solid majority of state legislatures and enjoyed both legislative and gubernatorial control in 21 states, compared with 17 states where Democrats led both branches of government.

Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in 2020 and early 2021 put serious pressure on the political and electoral systems, eroding the long-standing tradition of respect for official results and highlighting potential structural weaknesses that could be exploited by future candidates. While most Republican candidates who denied the legitimacy of Biden’s victory lost in statewide races in 2022, at least 150 such candidates won congressional races, and the persistence of unfounded doubts about the fairness of election administration continued to cause concern that future transfers of power could be disrupted.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 3.003 4.004

Various interest groups have come to play a potent role in the nominating process for president and members of Congress, partly because the expense and length of political campaigns place a premium on candidates’ ability to raise large amounts of funds from major donors. While there have been a number of attempts to restrict the role of money in political campaigning, most have been thwarted or watered down as a result of political opposition, lobbying by interest groups, and court decisions that equate political spending with free speech.

The 2020 election campaigns included by far the most expensive presidential race ever, and 2022 marked the most expensive midterms to date. As with other recent campaigns, much of the spending was routed through various types of “super PACs” (political action committees that are not supposed to coordinate with any candidate), nonprofit organizations, and other legal entities that often protect donor anonymity and carry few restrictions on the size and source of donations. Small donations make up an important share of candidates’ fundraising, but extremely wealthy contributors play an outsized role in overall spending.

Concerns about undue influence have also focused on lobbyists and others working for foreign governments who associate themselves with politicians or political campaigns. The Justice Department has increased enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to ensure transparency, but prosecutions alleging illegal consultant work for foreign powers have often resulted in acquittals.

The January 2021 attack on Congress underscored a broader rise in violence and intimidation as a tool of political influence in the United States. Numerous known affiliates of right-wing extremist groups participated in the attack, and many Republicans and far-right media figures later sought to recast it as a patriotic protest or a defense of election integrity. Nearly 15 percent of the rioters who faced criminal charges had a law enforcement or military background; the participation of military veterans prompted the Defense Department to order a broad review of measures necessary to minimize extremist behavior among active-duty troops.

Federal and state criminal investigations into the insurrection continued throughout 2022. As of late 2022, more than 950 people had been charged, with over 460 pleading guilty and 325 receiving sentences, including up to 10 years in prison. The most serious charges were filed against members of two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, for their alleged coordination of the January 6 violence. In November, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes was convicted on multiple counts, though he and several codefendants were also acquitted of some charges.

Meanwhile, reports of threats against elected officials and local election administrators have proliferated in recent years, with members of Congress subjected to a dramatic rise in intimidation. The risks were illustrated in October 2022, when a man was arrested for a brutal assault on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at their San Francisco home; the speaker, who was not present at the time, was the intruder’s intended target. Armed individuals were also arrested near the homes of conservative Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh in June and Pramila Jayapal, a progressive congresswoman from Washington State, in July.

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because there was no repetition of political or election-related violence on the scale of the January 2021 Capitol attack, and numerous participants in that attack and related malfeasance were successfully prosecuted amid ongoing state and federal investigations.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

A number of important laws are designed to ensure the political rights of members of racial and ethnic minority groups, and recent elections have featured an increase in candidates representing such groups. The Congress elected in 2020 included the first openly gay Black House members and record or near-record numbers of Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBT+, and women lawmakers. Kamala Harris, whose mother and father were Indian and Jamaican immigrants, respectively, became the first Black American, the first Asian American, and the first woman to win election as vice president. The 2022 midterm elections included a record number of candidates from minority groups, as well as the first openly lesbian women to be elected as governors (in Massachusetts and Oregon), and the first women elected as governor or senator in several states. Nevertheless, White Americans and men have remained highly overrepresented in Congress, in state legislatures, and in senior policymaking positions.

Racial and ethnic minority communities are disproportionately affected by laws and policies that create obstacles to voting and winning elected office. In 2013 the Supreme Court invalidated portions of the VRA of 1965, allowing certain states that previously had to submit legal changes for preclearance by federal authorities to adopt election laws without prior review. In the years since, in addition to adopting voter-identification requirements and limiting polling locations, a number of states—including some that were never subject to the preclearance rule—have partially rolled back innovations like early voting that contributed to higher rates of participation among minority groups. In 2021, the Supreme Court upheld restrictive Arizona voting rules against a VRA challenge, signaling a further weakening of the VRA as a safeguard against discriminatory state laws.

Various other state election-management policies have been criticized for having a disparate impact on racial and ethnic minority communities, including voter-roll purges, arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles to registration, and efforts to punish voter fraud—a very rare phenomenon in US elections. Several Republican-led states created law enforcement units to investigate voter fraud following the 2020 election, yielding meager results. The most aggressive action occurred in Florida, where the arrests of at least 19 people—nearly all of them Black—in August 2022 were followed by questions about whether any of them had intentionally sought to evade eligibility rules.

State laws that deny voting rights to citizens with felony convictions continue to disproportionately disenfranchise Black Americans, who are incarcerated at significantly higher rates than other populations. All but two states suspend voting rights during incarceration for felonies; a growing number of states have eased restrictions on voting rights after incarceration or during probation and parole, but the issue remains controversial. Overall, researchers estimated that more than five million people were disenfranchised for the 2020 elections due to felony convictions.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

The elected president and Congress are generally empowered to determine government policies and craft legislation. However, partisan polarization and obstruction in Congress has repeatedly delayed appropriations bills across multiple administrations, resulting in a series of partial shutdowns of federal government operations, most recently in 2018–19. Throughout 2021 and 2022, Republicans in the Senate effectively slowed the confirmation of Biden’s executive branch nominees, resulting in scores of vacant positions in the higher levels of government departments and agencies as of December. Such vacancies make it difficult or impossible for the relevant agencies to operate as intended by law.

Congress’s ability to serve as a check on potential abuses by the executive was thrown into doubt during the Trump administration. After Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 elections, the administration frequently clashed with Congress in ways that undermined the legislature’s constitutional oversight authority. Proposed reforms meant to address these problems by strengthening Congress’s oversight powers had yet to win passage in 2022.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

The United States benefits from strong structural safeguards against official corruption, including a traditionally independent law enforcement system, a free and vigorous press, and an active civil society sector. A variety of regulations and oversight institutions within government are designed to curb conflicts of interest and prevent other situations that could lead to malfeasance. However, regulations pertaining to the influence of money in US politics have long been criticized as an inadequate barrier against corruption.

The practices of the Trump administration exposed additional weaknesses in existing norms of government ethics and probity, particularly with respect to conflicts of interest between officials’ public roles and private business activity, and the protection of government whistleblowers from arbitrary dismissal or other reprisals. Since 2021, lawmakers have advanced a number of bills meant to address these gaps in ethics rules, but the reform legislation failed to make significant progress during 2022.

The Biden administration has issued executive orders that strengthened ethics rules within the executive branch, and watchdog groups described its efforts to limit cabinet members’ conflicts of interest as effective. However, critics continued to highlight ethics questions involving Biden’s son Hunter; Republicans campaigning in the 2022 midterms frequently pledged to launch congressional investigations of Hunter Biden’s business activities, and a federal probe was ongoing during the year.

Separately, the stock-trading practices of scores of federal lawmakers have come under scrutiny for alleged conflicts of interest, prompting unsuccessful efforts in 2022 to advance legislation that would restrict members’ ability to trade stocks.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

The United States was the first country to adopt a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) over 50 years ago, and the law—along with its state-level counterparts—is actively used by journalists, civil society groups, researchers, and members of the public. A 2016 reform law was designed to improve government agencies’ responsiveness to FOIA requests, and reporters and activists were able to use FOIA filings to obtain important documents on the Trump administration that congressional investigators could not access through normal oversight requests or subpoenas. Nevertheless, government performance on FOIA requests declined during Trump’s presidency, and in 2020 the coronavirus-induced transition to remote work by government employees produced a sharp drop in responsiveness to information requests at the federal, state, and local levels. Complaints about serious backlogs and calls for further FOIA reform persisted through 2022.

The executive branch includes a substantial number of auditing and investigative agencies that are designed to be independent of political influence; such bodies are often spurred to action by the investigative work of journalists. In 2020, however, Trump arbitrarily fired or replaced a series of agency inspectors general who had documented or investigated malfeasance by administration officials. In December 2022, Congress passed a spending bill that included provisions intended to reinforce the independence of inspectors general and protect them from presidential interference.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

The United States has a free and diverse press, operating under some of the strongest constitutional protections in the world, though media freedom and independence are somewhat impaired by problems including economic constraints, partisan bias and disinformation, and episodes of violence against journalists.

The media environment retains a high degree of pluralism, with newspapers, newsmagazines, traditional broadcasters, cable television networks, and news websites competing for readers and audiences. Internet access is widespread and unrestricted. While many larger outlets have prospered, however, independent local sources of news have struggled to keep up with technology-driven changes in news consumption and advertising, contributing to significant ownership consolidation in some sectors, and a number of communities with just one or no local news outlet.

News coverage has also grown more polarized, with certain outlets and their star commentators providing a consistently right- or left-leaning perspective. Although the mainstream media have continued to provide strong and independent coverage of national politics despite increased hostility from political figures in recent years, some outlets’ editorial policies effectively shifted to the left as they were drawn into adversarial relationships with the Trump presidency. The highly influential cable network Fox News has been unique, however, in its close alignment with the Republican Party; several prominent on-air personalities and executives migrated to government jobs under the Trump administration, and key hosts have openly endorsed Republican candidates or participated in campaign rallies. In 2022, some Fox News hosts continued to promote far-right and conspiracist views.

In October 2022, the Justice Department formally adopted regulations that prohibited federal authorities—with narrow exceptions—from seizing the records of journalists or requiring their testimony in order to identify confidential sources as part of leak investigations. The move, which codified a policy change issued by the attorney general in 2021, came in response to revelations that the department under Trump had secretly sought or obtained the records of journalists from multiple news outlets while investigating leaks.

A growing number of Americans look to social media and other online sources for political news, increasing their exposure to disinformation and propagandistic content of both foreign and domestic origin. The larger platforms have struggled to control false or hateful material without harming freedom of expression or their own business interests, though they have engaged in mass removals of far-right and foreign accounts that are used to spread disinformation. Following the January 2021 attack on Congress, the perceived risk of further incitement of violence by Trump prompted Twitter to ban his account, and Facebook and YouTube imposed indefinite suspensions. Late in 2022, after Twitter was purchased by billionaire Elon Musk, the platform reinstated Trump and thousands of other suspended users as part of a new emphasis on free speech, while temporarily banning several journalists for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Many advertisers responded to the turmoil by pausing their spending on Twitter.

In 2021, the Republican-led states of Florida and Texas adopted laws that aimed to restrict social media platforms’ ability to moderate content and suspend certain accounts, though enforcement of both measures was blocked pending judicial review. A federal appeals court overturned much of the Florida law in May 2022, while in September, a different appeals court upheld Texas’s statute, setting the stage for a resolution by the Supreme Court. Separately, New York and California adopted laws in June and September, respectively, that require platforms to be more transparent about their content moderation policies.

While criminal violence against journalists in the United States has been rare in recent decades, investigative journalist Jeff German was murdered in Las Vegas in September 2022. A local official who had been the subject of German’s reporting was arrested and charged with the crime.

Media watchdog groups registered widespread press freedom violations—including police violence and arbitrary arrests targeting journalists—in the context of the nationwide protests sparked in 2020 by the police killing of George Floyd, a Black civilian, in Minnesota that May. According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, a joint project of multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the number of violations has since declined sharply, falling to 15 arrests or detentions of journalists and 38 assaults on journalists in 2022, from 123 arrests and 334 assaults recorded during 2020. The latest incidents largely occurred during political protests. In June 2022, press freedom groups objected to a Supreme Court ruling that made it more difficult for journalists and others to seek monetary damages from federal officials who use excessive force or unlawful searches.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

The United States has a long tradition of religious freedom. The constitution protects the free exercise of religion while barring any official endorsement of a religious faith, and there are no direct government subsidies to houses of worship. The debate over the role of religion in public life is ongoing, however, and religious groups often mobilize to influence political discussions on the diverse issues in which they take an interest. The Supreme Court regularly adjudicates difficult cases involving the relationship between religion and the state. In 2022, the court issued several rulings that eased restrictions designed to avoid the appearance of an official endorsement of religion, for example by authorizing public funding of religious schools under some circumstances.

Hate crimes based on religion are generally prosecuted vigorously by law enforcement authorities. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics for 2020, released in 2021, showed a decrease of some 15 percent in such crimes from 2019; incidents involving Jewish targets constituted over 56 percent of the year’s religion-based hate crimes, and anti-Muslim crimes were the next most common category. FBI data covering 2021, released in 2022, were incomplete due to poor rates of reporting by local police departments, but separate studies in 2022 reported data indicating a rise in antisemitic hate crimes.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

The academic sphere has long featured a high level of intellectual freedom. While it remains quite robust by global standards, this liberty has come under pressure from both ends of the political spectrum. University faculty have reported instances of professional repercussions or harassment—including on social media—related to curriculum content, textbooks, or statements that some students strongly disagreed with. As a consequence, some professors have engaged in self-censorship. Students on a number of campuses have obstructed guest speakers whose views they find objectionable. In the most highly publicized cases, students and nonstudent activists have physically prevented presentations by controversial speakers, especially those known for their views on race, gender, immigration, Middle East politics, and other sensitive issues.

On a number of university campuses, such pressures were associated largely with the progressive left, but social and political forces on the right have increasingly applied pressure of their own in recent years. The Trump administration in 2020 ordered recipients of federal funds, including universities, to avoid diversity training that includes “divisive concepts” related to racism and sexism, prompting expressions of concern regarding impingements on academic freedom from numerous university administrators. A federal judge blocked implementation of the order, but in 2021 state-level officials initiated a wave of similar legislation pertaining to both universities and public schools—a trend that continued in 2022. These efforts were especially focused on restricting the teaching of “critical race theory” (CRT), an academic framework for examining a variety of issues including structural racism, and on constraining classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity. According to PEN America, lawmakers in at least seven states had adopted increasingly punitive “educational gag orders” restricting the forms and substance of classroom discussions on race and sexuality by August 2022, in addition to the dozen states that had passed such bills in 2021. Moreover, educators and administrators who were concerned about accreditation, legal liability, and parental anger reportedly acted preemptively to eliminate or alter courses and remove previously well-regarded texts from school libraries. Some library organizations sought to counter the trend by promoting online access to banned books across state lines.

These debates took place against the backdrop of a sharp rise in threats and intimidation aimed at school officials, and as increasingly well-funded and organized conservative or right-wing parents’ groups engaged in extensive efforts to control school curriculums and the materials offered in school and public libraries.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

Americans are generally free to engage in private discussion and air their personal views in public settings, including on the internet, though there are a number of threats to this freedom.

Civil libertarians, many lawmakers, and other observers have pointed to the real and potential effects of the government’s collection of communications data and other forms of intelligence-related monitoring on the rights of US residents, despite the adoption of significant reforms since such activities surged following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Separately, surveillance programs run by federal and local law enforcement agencies have long raised concerns among civil liberties groups, due in part to allegations of a disproportionate focus on religious, racial, and ethnic minority communities. A growing number of law enforcement and other government agencies are monitoring public social media content, with targets including applicants for US visas and participants in protests.

A public debate about law enforcement access to encrypted communication services continues, with some officials warning that their technical inability to break encryption even with a judicial warrant poses a threat to the rule of law, and opponents arguing that any weakening of encrypted services’ security would expose all users to criminal hacking and other ill effects.

Aside from concerns about government surveillance, internet users in the United States have faced problems such as aggressive disinformation efforts, intimidation, and frequently sexualized harassment on social media that may deter them from engaging in online discussion and expressing their views freely.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

In general, officials respect the constitutional right to public assembly. Demonstrations on political and other topics are common and typically proceed without incident, though local authorities often place restrictions on the location or duration of large protests. Legislative initiatives aiming to criminalize or stiffen penalties for certain forms of protest, or to shield perpetrators of violence against protesters from legal liability, have been proposed in most states over the past decade. A total of 39 states enacted such laws between 2017 and the end of 2022.

In recent years, large protests and aggressive law enforcement responses have been sparked by highly publicized police killings of Black civilians, many of which were recorded on video. In May 2020, outrage over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis inspired one of the largest waves of protests in US history. Under the banner of the decentralized Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, marches involving millions of people occurred in hundreds of cities and smaller communities. An overwhelming majority of the protests were peaceful, but in some settings they were accompanied by violence against police and significant damage to public and private property. Aggressive police tactics often contributed to violent episodes, and hundreds of instances of unprovoked or disproportionate police violence were documented on video.

Police officers rarely face punishment for violence against protesters, including in cases of apparent abuse caught on camera during the 2020 protests. Observers that year also noted that police often exercised greater restraint toward anti-BLM counterprotesters and participants in separate demonstrations against COVID-19-related restrictions, many of whom were armed and displayed far-right or White supremacist symbols.

With the exception of the January 2021 attack on Congress, conditions surrounding mass assemblies were generally more peaceful in 2021 and 2022.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

US laws and practices give wide freedom to NGOs and activists to pursue their civic or policy agendas, including those that directly oppose government policies. Organizations committed to the protection of civil liberties, immigrants’ rights, equality for women and minority groups, and freedom of speech became more active during the Trump administration and remained so in 2022, mounting campaigns and filing lawsuits to block government actions that they considered harmful. A number of privately supported NGO projects have also been established in recent years to address deficiencies in the electoral and criminal justice systems.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Federal law generally guarantees trade unions the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. The right to strike is also legally protected for most workers, though many public employees are prohibited from striking. Over the years, the strength of organized labor has declined, and just 6 percent of the private-sector workforce belonged to unions in 2022. While public-sector unions had a higher rate of membership, with 33.1 percent, they have come under pressure as well. The overall unionization rate in 2022 was 10.1 percent, down slightly from 10.3 percent in 2021. The country’s labor code and decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during Republican presidencies have been regarded as impediments to organizing efforts, but Democratic administrations, which are generally more supportive of union interests, have failed to reverse the deterioration. Union organizing is also hampered by resistance from private employers. Among other tactics, many employers categorize workers as contractors or use rules pertaining to franchisees to prevent organizing.

A 2018 Supreme Court ruling that government employees cannot be required to contribute to unions representing them in collective bargaining has led to losses in union membership, and 27 states have “right-to-work” legislation in place, allowing private-sector workers who benefit from union bargaining to similarly opt out of paying union dues or fees. In 2021 the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would strengthen organizing and bargaining capacity by overriding right-to-work laws and giving more categories of workers the right to unionize, among other changes, but the bill was blocked by Senate Republicans.

A labor shortage that accompanied the economic recovery from the pandemic starting in 2021 emboldened many workers to make demands in negotiations with employers, leading to a series of highly publicized strikes and increased media coverage of labor disputes, though the total number of strikers remained relatively small. Such coverage continued in 2022, focusing on high-profile organizing efforts at the coffeehouse chain Starbucks and the online retailer Amazon. While workers made gains, including through successful unionization drives at scores of Starbucks locations, employers responded with aggressive antiunion campaigns. Labor advocates applauded the NLRB’s increased enforcement efforts against unlawful tactics but described them as insufficient to level the playing field. Separately, President Biden was criticized by some organizers and advocates for intervening in late November to avert a railroad strike; he signed legislation in early December to impose a contract that had been rejected by rank-and-file rail workers in several unions.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 3.003 4.004

The American judiciary is largely independent. The courts regularly demonstrate their autonomy by blocking or limiting executive and legislative actions, and this continued during 2022.

However, the pattern of judicial appointments in recent years has added to existing concerns about partisan distortion of the appointment and confirmation process. Norm-breaking procedural maneuvering allowed Republicans to hold open an unusually large number of judicial vacancies under President Obama and then fill them under President Trump, including a Supreme Court vacancy that began during Obama’s final year in office. Trump filled two additional vacancies on the Supreme Court in 2018 and 2020 after deeply contentious Senate hearings and nearly party-line votes. These appointments cemented a conservative Supreme Court majority.

Biden sought to return to a more traditional use of presidential clemency powers in 2022, focusing largely on commuting the sentences of people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. President Trump had repeatedly used his pardon authority in an arbitrary or politicized fashion, bypassing Justice Department processes and awarding pardons to many of his own personal associates or individuals whose cases were championed by his political allies.

In many states, judges are chosen through either partisan or nonpartisan elections, and a rise in campaign fundraising and party involvement in such elections over the last two decades has increased the threat of bias and favoritism in state courts. In addition, executive and legislative officials in a growing number of states have attempted to exert greater control over state courts in recent years.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

The United States has a deeply rooted rule-of-law tradition, and legal and constitutional protections for due process are widely observed. However, the criminal justice system suffers from a number of chronic weaknesses, many of which are tied to racial discrimination and contribute to disparities in outcomes that disadvantage people of color, particularly Black Americans. Media reports and analyses in recent years have drawn new attention to the extensive use of plea bargaining in criminal cases, with prosecutors employing the threat of harsh sentences to avoid trial and effectively reducing the role of the judiciary and juries; deficiencies in the parole system; long-standing funding shortages for public defenders, who represent low-income defendants in criminal cases; racial bias in risk-assessment tools for decisions on pretrial detention; and the practice of imposing court fees or fines for minor offenses as a means of raising local budget revenues, which can lead to jail terms for those who are unable to pay.

These problems and evolving enforcement and sentencing policies have contributed to major increases in incarceration over time. The population of sentenced state and federal prisoners soared from about 200,000 in 1970 to more than 1.6 million in 2009, then gradually decreased to roughly 1.2 million as of the end of 2021, according to the most recent data available. The incarceration rate based on such counts rose from around 100 per 100,000 US residents in 1970 to a peak of more than 500 in the late 2000s, then fell to about 350 as of the end of 2021. There are also hundreds of thousands of pretrial detainees and short-term jail inmates behind bars. Despite gradual declines in the number of Black prisoners, Black and Hispanic inmates continue to account for a majority of the prison population, whereas Black and Hispanic people account for roughly a third of the general US population. Lawmakers, elected state attorneys, researchers, activists, and criminal justice professionals have reached a broad consensus that the current level of incarceration is not needed to preserve public safety.

In recent years, Congress and the executive branch have enacted modest reforms to address mass incarceration and racial disparities in sentencing, such as a 2018 law that eased federal mandatory-minimum sentencing rules and a 2022 Justice Department policy that would reduce sentencing gaps between similar drug offenses. A majority of states have also passed laws in recent years to reduce sentences for certain crimes, decriminalize minor drug offenses, and combat recidivism. However, such gradual steps slowed amid fears of rising crime in 2022. Some states have restricted the use of cash bail, which can unfairly penalize defendants with fewer resources and enlarge pretrial jail populations.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Both the US homicide rate—at 6.9 per 100,000 inhabitants as of 2021, according to FBI data—and overall crime rates have declined substantially since the 1990s. However, the figures are high when compared with other wealthy democracies, and the homicide rate rose by 30 percent between 2019 and 2020, with even higher spikes in a number of large cities. The number of murders continued to rise nationally at a slower pace in 2021, then appeared to decline slightly in 2022.

The increased policy focus on reforming the criminal justice system in recent years has coincided with a series of widely publicized incidents in which police actions led to civilian deaths. Most of these prominent cases involved Black civilians, while Native Americans are reportedly killed by police at a higher rate per capita than any other group. Only a small fraction of police killings lead to criminal charges; when officers have been brought to trial, the cases have often ended in acquittals or sentences on reduced charges. In many instances, long-standing and rigid labor protections prevent municipal governments and police departments from imposing significant administrative sanctions on allegedly abusive officers. Nevertheless, some officers have received substantial prison sentences in recent years, including for the 2020 murder of George Floyd. That year’s protests against police violence and racial injustice succeeded in drawing media and advocacy attention to many police departments’ deep resistance to any reform or accountability mechanisms. A push by some reform advocates to cut police departments’ funding and direct it to other public services faced criticism amid rising crime rates, however, and many such efforts were subsequently diluted or reversed.

Conditions in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention centers are often poor at the state and local levels, and death rates in jails appear to have risen in recent years, driven not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also by increased suicides and drug overdoses, with negligence or understaffing among corrections officers a contributing factor in some deaths.

Use of the death penalty has declined over time. There were 18 executions carried out by six states in 2022—up from 11 executions in 2021, but significantly down from a peak of 98 in 1999. The death penalty has been formally abolished by 23 states; in another 16 states where it remains on the books, executions have not been carried out for the past five years or more. In 2020 the federal government resumed executions for the first time since 2003, and 13 federal executions were carried out before the Biden administration imposed a moratorium in 2021. Factors encouraging the decline of the death penalty include clear racial disparities in its application; a pattern of exonerations of death-row inmates, often based on new DNA testing; states’ inability to obtain chemicals used in lethal injections due to objections from producers; multiple cases of botched executions; and the high costs to state and federal authorities associated with death penalty cases. The US Supreme Court has effectively ruled out the death penalty for crimes other than murder and in cases where the perpetrator is a juvenile or mentally disabled, among other restrictions.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

An array of policies and programs are designed to protect the rights of individuals against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and other categories, including in the workplace. However, women and some minority groups continue to suffer from disparities on various indicators, and a number of recent government policies have infringed on the fundamental rights of asylum seekers and immigrants.

Although women constitute almost half of the US workforce and have increased their representation in many professions, the average compensation for female workers is roughly 83 percent of that for male workers, a gap that has remained relatively constant over the past several decades. Meanwhile, the wage gap between White and Black workers has grown in recent decades, meaning Black women, who are affected by both the gender and racial components of wage inequality, made about 69 cents for every dollar earned by White male workers as of 2020, according to the most recent data available. Women are also most often affected by sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. A popular and ongoing social media campaign that began in late 2017, the #MeToo movement, has encouraged victims to speak out about their experiences, leading to accountability for some perpetrators and underscoring the scale of the problem in American society.

In addition to structural inequalities and discrimination in wages and employment, racial and ethnic minority groups face long-running and interrelated disparities in education and housing. De facto school segregation is a persistent problem, and the housing patterns that contribute to it are influenced by factors such as mortgage discrimination, which particularly affects Black and Hispanic homeowners. Black homeownership has fallen steadily from a peak in 2004, despite gains for other groups in recent years. This in turn influences overall gaps in wealth and social mobility. For example, the median wealth of White families is 12 times the median wealth of Black families. Black people also face discrimination in health care and experience worse outcomes than their White counterparts; during the COVID-19 pandemic, people of color experienced strikingly higher mortality from the virus.

Violence motivated by racism or other forms of group animosity is a regular occurrence in the United States. Asian Americans were the victims of a surge in discrimination and hate crimes in 2020 and 2021, attributed in part to President Trump’s attempts to focus blame for the pandemic on China, where the initial outbreak occurred. A White gunman’s racist killing of 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in May 2022 illustrated the continuing threat from violent White supremacism, while the November murder of five people in a Colorado nightclub that was popular with LGBT+ people reflected the persistence of hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In general, LGBT+ people have made strides toward legal equality in recent years. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights legislation includes LGBT+ people as a class protected from workplace discrimination. In 2021, the Biden administration lifted a Trump-era ban on transgender people serving in the military, and the administration has taken other steps to affirm the rights of transgender people. However, significant discrimination endures. In March 2022, Florida lawmakers adopted a bill that banned discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in most primary-school classrooms, prompting multiple lawsuits attempting to block enforcement; similar bills were introduced in at least a dozen additional states during the year. A number of other new state laws have restricted the rights of transgender people in particular.

Throughout 2022, the Biden administration continued to use a COVID-19-related public health authority known as Title 42 to rapidly expel or deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers. However, a growing proportion of migrants and asylum seekers came from countries that were exempt from Title 42. Some Republican state governors took unilateral steps to draw attention to the administration’s alleged failure to protect the border. Starting in April, Texas officials conducted trade-disrupting inspections of vehicles crossing from Mexico and arranged for the busing of thousands of newly arrived migrants to New York, Washington, DC, and other cities governed by Democrats. In September, Florida governor Ron DeSantis oversaw the air transport of nearly 50 migrants from Texas to a wealthy island in the state of Massachusetts; the move triggered multiple investigations into whether the migrants in question had been illegally deceived or federal funds had been misused to finance the operation.

Since 2021, immigration authorities have moved away from maximizing arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants and back toward the Obama-era policy of focusing deportation efforts on those individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety. Nevertheless, the backlog of cases in immigration courts continued to balloon; as of the end of 2022 there were over two million pending cases, with average wait times of more than two years for a case to be resolved—though the cases of those held in immigration detention tend to move more quickly. Human rights and immigrant advocacy groups criticized the government for taking inadequate measures to address poor conditions in immigration detention facilities. In August 2022, the Biden administration announced steps intended to strengthen the legal standing of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. However, in October a federal appeals court ruled that the program was illegal, leaving it in limbo as appeals continued at year’s end.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

There are no significant undue restrictions on freedom of movement within the United States, and residents are generally free to travel abroad without improper obstacles. A patchwork of temporary movement restrictions prompted by the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 were loosely enforced and had mostly been lifted by late 2021 as vaccination rates rose.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4.004 4.004

Property rights are widely respected in the United States. The legal and political environments are supportive of entrepreneurial activity and business ownership. Pandemic-related business restrictions at the state and local levels, which caused significant disruption and prompted civil disobedience and public protests by some private business owners in 2020, declined as vaccination rates rose and businesses reopened in 2021.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3.003 4.004

Men and women generally enjoy equal rights in divorce and custody proceedings, and there are no undue restrictions on choice of marriage partner, particularly after a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that all states must allow same-sex marriage. In December 2022, Congress passed and the president signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would require the federal government and all states to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states, even if the Supreme Court were to reverse its 2015 decision. In recent years, a growing number of states have passed laws to eliminate exemptions that allowed marriages of people under age 18 in certain circumstances. Rape and domestic or intimate-partner violence remain serious problems. The applicable laws vary somewhat by state, though spousal rape is a crime nationwide. Numerous government and nongovernmental programs are designed to combat such violence and assist victims.

In June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned a 1973 precedent and found that the federal constitution did not guarantee a right to abortion, thereby returning the issue to the states. By year’s end, near-total bans on abortion had taken effect in at least 12 states, with only narrow exceptions that would make access extremely difficult or dangerous in practice. Increased restrictions were in effect in an additional five states, and court injunctions temporarily blocked near-total or significant bans in six other states. The populations of states where abortion was effectively unavailable or severely restricted accounted for nearly a third of US women of reproductive age. Critics of the new or revived state restrictions noted that their vague language introduced considerable uncertainty about whether doctors would face prosecution even for providing potentially life-saving care. Scores of clinics—nearly 70 as of October—were forced to stop offering abortion services or close entirely, compelling women in the affected states to travel to jurisdictions with more liberal laws in order to seek treatment, a constraint that disproportionately burdened women with lower incomes. Although reproductive rights advocates mobilized to help pay for travel and facilitate access to abortion medication, access to abortion demonstrably declined, particularly in the 12 states with near-total bans in effect; even in states where abortion remained legal, providers sometimes lacked the capacity to serve both local patients and those traveling from other states. Voters in six states were presented with referendums on abortion rights in August and November, and in each case majorities supported the option that would preserve wider access to abortion.

The recent pattern of state laws restricting the rights of transgender people has also affected their access to medical treatments related to bodily autonomy and appearance.

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the Supreme Court’s ruling that abortion is not a constitutional right cleared the way for severe state-level restrictions that left a significant share of the population without access by year’s end.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

The “American dream”—the notion of a fair society in which hard work will bring economic and social advancement, regardless of the circumstances of one’s birth—is a core part of the country’s identity. In recent decades, however, studies have shown a widening inequality in wealth and a narrowing of access to upward mobility. A series of economic stimulus and relief packages introduced by the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic successfully reduced overall poverty rates, but the temporary nature of some highly effective programs, such as an expanded tax credit for families with children that expired at the end of 2021, meant that the societal gains were often ephemeral.

One key aspect of inequality in the United States is the growing income and wealth gap between Americans with university degrees and those with a high school degree or less; the number of well-compensated jobs for the less-educated has fallen over time as manufacturing and other positions are lost to automation and lower-cost foreign production. These jobs have generally been replaced by less remunerative or less stable employment in the service and retail sectors, where there is a weaker tradition of unionization. The pandemic-related economic shock amplified that dynamic, disrupting employment and income for lower-earning, less-educated workers in particular. In 2021, a lockdown-induced spike in household savings, combined with fiscal and monetary stimulus policies, produced strong demand, greater bargaining power, and higher wages for such workers. However, the same factors, along with persistent trade disruptions caused by the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, also produced high levels of inflation that tempered the effect of wage increases through 2022.

The inflation-adjusted national minimum wage has fallen substantially since the 1960s, with the last nominal increase in 2009, though many states and localities have enacted increases since then. Other obstacles to gainful employment include inadequate public transportation and the high cost of living in economically dynamic cities and regions. The latter problem, which is exacerbated by exclusionary housing policies in many jurisdictions, has also contributed to an overall rise in homelessness in recent years.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    83 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    76 100 free