In the middle of a United States presidential election season, candidates are prone to talking about how the U.S. is the greatest country on earth. But when it comes to the rule of law, the U.S. may have some work to do, according to a new survey.
The U.S. ranks 18th among 113 countries in terms of how the rule of law is experienced by citizens, according to the World Justice Project's 2016 Rule of Law Index. And that was before a certain presidential candidate refused to say he would accept the election results.
The report, released Thursday, puts the U.S. behind countries like Estonia, the Czech Republic and Japan. The Nordic countries – which often dominate such international ranking lists – grabbed the top spots. Venezuela fares the worst in the ranking, coming in right under Cambodia and Afghanistan.
The annual report surveyed more than 100,000 citizens and attorneys about constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice.
While the U.S. scored within the top third of all countries, its performance was only average compared to other affluent nations, says Alejandro Ponce, chief research officer at the World Justice Project.
The country had two key weaknesses, Ponce says. The first was the affordability of civil justice. “It is expensive compared to other countries, particularly for poor people,” he says. The second was “equal treatment and absence of discrimination" – a finding that may seem unsurprising to some following more than two years of protest over police shootings of African-Americans.
In general, though, the U.S. scored well on most measurements, including “lawful transition of power.” To earn a high score in this area – .83 out of 1 for the U.S. – a country’s leader must be elected through a “clean process” in accordance with its own laws or Constitution. Among other criteria, citizens should believe that they can vote freely, without facing harassment, pressure or fear.
Countries that earned the top spot in their regions included Nepal, Georgia, South Africa, Uruguay, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and Denmark.
The countries who moved the most in the survey, conducted since 2010, include Egypt, Iran and Argentina. Compared to the 2015 survey, Egypt fell 13 positions, Iran rose 13 positions and Argentina increased 12. The number of countries has expanded each year, so those figures don't factor in the 11 countries that were added this year.
Here is a list of the top 10 countries in terms of the rule of law, according to the the World Justice Project:
Country Global Rank Overall Score Denmark 1 0.89 Norway 2 0.88 Finland 3 0.87 Sweden 4 0.86 Netherlands 5 0.86 Germany 6 0.83 Austria 7 0.83 New Zealand 8 0.83 Singapore 9 0.82 United Kingdom 10 0.81