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Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

United States


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Quick Facts

Washington, DC
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The United States is arguably the world’s oldest democracy. Its people benefit from a vibrant electoral system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties. The United States remains a major destination point for immigrants and has largely been successful in integrating newcomers from all backgrounds. However, in recent years the country’s democratic institutions have suffered some erosion, as reflected in legislative gridlock, dysfunction in the criminal justice system, and growing disparities in wealth and economic opportunity.

Key Developments: 
  • Wealthy businessman Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee, defeated Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party in the November presidential election. Although Clinton received the most votes at the national level, Trump won the presidency by securing a decisive majority in the state-based Electoral College.
  • Beginning in October, U.S. intelligence agencies officially accused Russia of interfering in the election process, in part by hacking into the computer systems of the Democratic Party and leaking its internal communications.
  • Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died in February, but Republican leaders in the Senate refused to hold confirmation hearings for outgoing president Barack Obama’s nominee to replace him, arguing that the next president should make the appointment. The vacancy remained open at year’s end. 
Executive Summary: 

Celebrity real-estate developer Donald Trump, an outsider candidate with no previous political experience, won the November presidential election after a year-and-a-half campaign. He secured the Republican Party’s nomination in July after defeating a large field of opponents, including several seasoned politicians, in the primary elections. He then scored a major upset in the general election against Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, senator, and secretary of state. Republicans also maintained their majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, meaning one party would control both the presidency and Congress for the first time since 2010.

The hard-fought electoral campaign reflected a country that is deeply polarized, not only along party lines, but also along lines of race, gender, geography, and education. Trump ultimately prevailed by winning over white working-class voters in key states, defeating a Clinton coalition that relied more on college-educated white voters and racial and ethnic minorities.

The campaign was also notable for Trump’s use of a personal social media account, live rallies, and other means of communicating directly with voters instead of costly television advertising, the typical centerpiece of campaign messaging in recent elections. The news media challenged the veracity of many of Trump’s campaign statements, most notably his assertion that the election system was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

The election was marred by alleged Russian interference, with U.S. intelligence officials citing strong evidence that hackers tied to the Kremlin had stolen documents from the Democratic Party and leaked them over the course of the campaign period. Clinton’s bid was separately hampered by a federal investigation into her improper use of a private e-mail server during her tenure as secretary of state, though investigators eventually decided against filing charges.

Throughout 2016, President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda continued to be stymied by Republican opposition in Congress. As a result, Obama used executive authority to advance his priorities in areas including the environment, foreign policy, and health and labor standards. Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominee to replace Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February, leaving the court with eight members.

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