U.S. News Ranks 2020 Best Countries

Kevin Drew

Switzerland remains the best country in the world, though Canada has moved up to the second spot in the U.S. News 2020 Best Countries rankings.

For Switzerland, it's the the fourth consecutive year the island of neutrality in Central Europe has been judged No. 1 by residents of 36 countries. Canada was chosen second, overtaking Japan in the fifth annual survey.

The Best Countries report, produced from an annual global survey of more than 20,000 people in 36 countries that includes the United States, reflects increasingly negative views of the world and within countries. Nearly half of survey respondents say conditions around the world have worsened in the past year. Likewise, an increased percentage of people say the gap between the rich and poor has grown and that nationalism is increasing.

The Top 5 Countries in the World

-- Switzerland

-- Canada

-- Japan

-- Germany

-- Australia

The Bottom 5 Countries in the World

-- Lebanon

-- Serbia

-- Oman

-- Belarus

-- Tunisia

This year's report is the fifth edition of the global survey that debuted in January 2016. U.S. News used this year's survey to examine more than countries' standings in rankings, but trends that have emerged since 2016. Among the most noteworthy findings:

-- The United States ranks No. 7 overall, bolstered by being seen as the most powerful country. While the U.S. scores highly for its entrepreneurship and cultural influence, the country is damaged by the sharpest drop in global trust since 2016 among all countries assessed.

-- The United Kingdom, riven by nearly four years of a divisive Brexit debate that has put the country on the path to leaving the European Union at the end of January, falls to No. 6, dropping out of the top five for the first time. The U.K. suffered the second-largest drop in trust worldwide since 2016, although far less than the U.S.

-- Ninety percent of survey respondents say women should be entitled to the same rights as men, the highest level of agreement in the survey. Yet only 64% say women have the same economic opportunities in their country as men.

-- The global public's worries about technology persist, with a sharp majority of respondents seeking tighter regulation of Big Tech companies and calling for a global set of standards for the internet.

-- Global concerns over the impact of climate change remain high, but in European countries public opinion is divided on how effective the countries' policies are.

Compared to 2019, more people in this year's Best Countries report say that the global economy is in decline, that nationalism is on the rise and that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. Those sentiments are part of a larger narrative in which political scientists say worries are growing over an increasingly unstable world. Last week, the Eurasia Group rated this year's U.S. presidential election as the world's top risk.

In Asia, concerns are growing of an increasingly institutionalized Cold War between the U.S. and China, says Zhang Baohui, professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian-Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. "Hot spots like the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea would be more likely to trigger military conflicts between the two countries," Zhang said by email.

In Europe, the public mood is increasingly anxious about climate change, employment and migration, says Karel Lannoo, CEO of the Centre for European Policy Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Brussels. But larger worries are whether countries can work together to preserve geopolitical stability, Lannoo says.

"Compare the mood around the world today, compare this to 30 years ago, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a very hopeful world; we are at the end of that cycle. It is a less free world, with more illiberal democracies."

The Best Countries report and subsequent rankings are based on how people's perceptions define countries in terms of a number of qualitative characteristics. The 2020 report focuses on global perceptions of 73 nations.

The rankings are formed in partnership between U.S. News & World Report, BAV Group (a unit of global marketing communications company VMLY&R) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The rankings include 65 metrics.

The survey's results show respondents reward stability, transparency and equality, say analysts. Switzerland and Canada rank second and third, respectively, as the best countries to conduct business, trailing only Luxembourg. The U.S., by contrast, ranks 45th among the 73 countries assessed in that category.

Canada is seen as the world's most transparent country, followed by Nordic countries Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Switzerland ranks No. 5, while the U.S. improved one spot from 2019 to rank No. 18.

Seven of the top 10 countries overall also rank among the top 10 countries for gender equality, including No. 8 Sweden that is seen as the best country for gender equality. Approximately 90% of survey respondents agreed with the statement that women should have the same rights as men. But just 64% say women actually enjoy the same economic opportunities as men in their country.

Nearly 4 out of 5 respondents agreed that LGBTQ individuals should be entitled to the same rights as non-LGBTQ individuals, with women (82%) agreeing more than men (76%), and 18- to 24-year-olds registering the highest share of sentiment that strongly agrees with that view (37.4%).

Meanwhile, the U.S. enters a presidential election year with its people and politics highly polarized. Last week, Eurasia Group, a political risk and consulting firm, rated the U.S. domestic politics as the world's top global risk, the first time America has entered into the group's top five worldwide risks.

In a separate global survey, Pew found earlier this month that opinions of the U.S. are generally positive, but that views of President Donald Trump remains low. Those negative views are especially strong in Western European countries.

Senior Data Editor Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.

Kevin Drew is the assistant managing editor of Best Countries, which he helped develop and launch for U.S. News & World Report in 2016. His recent projects include an exploration of the global impact of pediatric cancer, made possible by a grant awarded by the Solutions Journalism Network. Before joining U.S. News, he worked in Asia, Europe and the U.S. for The New York Times, CNN, The Associated Press and other news organizations. He is a recipient of a DuPont Award for Excellence in Journalism as a supervisor for CNN's digital coverage of the South Asian tsunami, and a Peabody Team Award for CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Follow him on Twitter or email him at kdrew@usnews.com.