A September 3 2019 tweet (shared to Facebook the following day) contained the alarming claim that the United States was ranked the 118th safest country in the world in 2019, dropping from the 65th spot in 2018:
That tweet was shared thousands of times each on both platforms, despite lacking any context or citation. Readers searching “United States is the 118th safest country in the world” often discovered the tweet and others like it as Google’s primary result — not necessarily an indication it was false, but suggestive that not many highly-ranked sources made the same claim.
Related searches turned up a metric known as the “Global Peace Index” or GPI, an annual report issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) that is “developed in consultation with an international panel of peace experts from peace institutes and think tanks with data collected and collated by the Economist Intelligence Unit.” Its methodology factors 23 aspects of safety and security, compiling a broader view of the myriad conflicts affecting different countries and regions of the world:
In assessing peacefulness, the GPI investigates the extent to which countries are involved in ongoing domestic and international conflicts. It also seeks to evaluate the level of harmony or discord within a nation; ten indicators broadly assess what might be described as a safety and security in society. The assertion is that low crime rates, minimal incidences of terrorist acts and violent demonstrations, harmonious relations with neighboring countries, a stable political scene and a small proportion of the population being internally displaced or refugees can be suggestive of peacefulness.
In July 2019, the IEP published its annual Global Peace Index [PDF.] Armenia was the country actually ranked at 118, followed by Kenya, Nicaragua, the Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, Honduras, Bahrain, Myanmar, Niger, and South Africa. The United States was in fact ranked 128, a full ten spots behind the 118th most peaceful country as determined by the report.
A summary of the rankings provided insight into the United States’ ranking:
All three regions in the Americas recorded a deterioration in peacefulness in the 2019 GPI, with Central America and the Caribbean showing the largest deteriorations, followed by South America, and then North America. Increasing political instability has been an issue across all three regions, exemplified by the violent unrest seen in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and growing political polarisation in Brazil and the United States.
Another claim made by the tweet was that the United States’ ranking had fallen dozens of spots, from 65 in 2018. That is also inaccurate by this metric, as the 2018 Global Peace Index [PDF] ranked the United States at 121; Kenya was at the 128th spot. The tweet overstated the drop in rank between 2018 and 2019 for the United States by several dozen.
As for years prior to 2018 and 2019, the United States ranked at a similar 114 in 2017 [PDF], preceded that year by Rwanda at 113. And in 2016, the United States ranked 103 [PDF], just behind Uganda and Guinea (tied at 101). That was down from 94 in 2015 [PDF] and up from 101 in 2014 [PDF.] IEP’s report was formatted in a slightly different way in 2013, but that year the United States ranked at 99th [PDF] versus neighbor Canada in the eighth spot.
Finally, in 2012 [PDF] ranked at 88th, its lowest number. To recap, the following year (2013), the US dropped eleven spots to 99, falling to 101 in 2014. The US moved up seven spots in 2015 to 94, before falling seven spots to rank 101st again in 2016. In 2017, the US dropped another 13 spots to rank 114th, before dropping another seven spots to 121 in 2018, and falling seven more spots to 128 in 2019.
The tweet was inaccurate both on the specific number ranking of the United States in 2019 (128th versus 118th) and by the purported rate of the downward mobility of the U.S. in the rankings. Although the United States exhibited a downward trend most years from 2012 to 2019, the lowest rank we located was 88 in 2012. At no point in those years’ rankings did the country drop 50 or more spots.
To put it another way, while the United States has been much safer in previous years, relatively speaking it has never been particularly safe.