The U.S. has slipped out of the top 20 countries perceived to have the least corruption, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the watchdog group Transparency International.
The Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 finds the U.S. in 22nd place, with a score of 71, right behind France and ahead of the United Arab Emirates. Countries are evaluated on a 100-point scale, based on the trust that experts and business leaders have in public institutions. A higher score means people believe the government is less corrupt. Denmark and New Zealand held the top-ranked spots on the list; Syria and Somalia were on the bottom.
Last year, the U.S. was ranked 16th.
Zoe Reiter, Transparency International's acting representative to the U.S., noted that this is the lowest score given to the United States in seven years.
"The U.S. typically performs right toward the end of the top 20," Reiter told NPR. "We've always been outperformed by our partners in the north — Canada and many of the northern European countries. That said, what we are seeing is this trend toward declining trust, not by just the public but also by experts, in the strength of our democratic institutions."
Reiter said her organization sees President Trump as a symptom of that eroding trust.
"What really is significant about the Trump presidency is the way in which he's bending existing norms," she said. "His lack of transparency regarding his assets, as well as his repeated attempts to undermine the Mueller investigation and attacks on the press, all of this is highly concerning."
The 10 least corrupt countries, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index, are:
1. Denmark (score of 88)
2. New Zealand (87)
3. Finland (85)
3. Singapore (85)
3. Sweden (85)
3. Switzerland (85)
7. Norway (84)
8. Netherlands (82)
9. Canada (81)
9. Luxembourg (81)
Mapped out, Western Europe and the EU were the highest-scoring regions, while sub-Saharan Africa was the lowest-scoring region.
Transparency International lamented that two-thirds of the 180 countries and territories scored below 50 and that the vast majority of counties made little to no progress.
Hungary, for example, dropped nine points on the CPI and ranked 64th, while Turkey dropped eight points and ranked 78th.
In Asia, Transparency International's report noted that public protests have resulted in new governments and anti-corruption reforms in India, Malaysia, the Maldives and Pakistan but said this has not yet translated into solid action.
Venezuela came in at No. 168. The country has been roiled by a political rebellion that has the backing of the U.S. and has drawn support from citizens who say they can't afford food and medicine under the economically ruinous policies of President Nicolás Maduro.
In compiling its annual report, Transparency International draws from 13 surveys of businesspeople and expert assessments, including from the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Economic Forum.
The group conceded that the index does not measure all forms of corruption. For example, it pointed out that Danske Bank has been preliminarily charged with breaking Denmark's anti-money laundering laws. Swiss banks and other financial intermediaries have been embroiled in corruption scandals in Malaysia, Brazil and Mozambique. Finland's state-owned defense company Patria has been implicated in scandals in Slovenia and Croatia.