After having secured the nominations of their respective parties, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are continuing their heated campaigns across the 50 states in the hopes of being elected the next US president on November 6, 2012.
Below, you can see a short summary of each candidates' positions on issues that have dominated the campaign, from the economy to abortion and national security.
Hover over any cell in the grid for more detailed information about each issue:
| || |
||Pro-choice; provide free birth control for women enrolled in workplace healthcare plans.
||Pro-life; Stop federal aid to Planned Parenthood, the largest US provider of reproductive health services.
||Reduce federal spending on military; eliminate wasteful spending; raise taxes on the wealthy.
||Reduce federal spending across the board.
||Bring overseas jobs back to the US; use short-term spending to promote job growth; push exports via free trade agreements.
||Decrease regulation; cut corporate tax rate; more trade deals; repeal recent laws regulating finance industry.
||Increase taxes on wealthiest; raise rates on capital gains and dividends for rich; reform corporate tax code.
||Decrease all tax rates; slash corporate tax.
||Promote alternative methods to traditional public education (charter schools); tie teacher evaluations to test scores; impose nationwide school standards.
||Uphold "No Child Left Behind" law; give states greater control over education reform; Promote charter schools and school choice.
||Invest in renewable energy sources; curb carbon emissions; reduce oil imports.
||Expand fossil fuel production to make US energy independent; start drilling in federally-protected areas; discontinue wind and solar energy development; against carbon emissions regulations.
||Withdraw troops from Afghanistan; cut military funding; use sanctions and diplomacy.
||Increase strength of armed forces and military budget.
||Does not list gun control as a priority.
||Against new gun-control legislation.
||Uphold healthcare reform law.
||Repeal healthcare reform law.
||Create a legal path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants; against deportation of illegal immigrant youths.
||Against creating a legal path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants; build US-Mexico border fence; sanction companies who hire illegal workers.
||Expanded use of drones; banned use of aggressive interrogation techniques.
||Allow aggressive interrogation techniques; no constitutional rights for suspects.
|Role of government
||In favour of federal regulation.
||In favour of state regulation; smaller federal government.
||Legalise same-sex marriage; make same-sex marriages recognised at the federal level.
||Against same-sex marriage; ban the practice with a constitutional amendment.
||Reduce wasteful Medicare spending; against privatising social security.
||Replace Medicare with fixed payments; against privatising social security.
For decades, abortion has been one of the most divisive issues in US society. Months before Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, a Republican, made headlines with his controversial statements about "legitimate rape", Democrats had accused Republicans of waging a "war on women" for passing more than 1,100 new bills that limit women's reproductive rights. Many pro-choice activists fear that if Romney takes office he will overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the US.
Obama supports Roe v Wade and views choice as a "fundamental constitutional right". He has consistently voted for pro-choice initiatives, and notably opposed a Supreme Court ruling in favour of banning partial birth abortions. In 2010, he drew criticism for his support of the Hyde Amendment, which bars certain federal funds for aborting pregnancies that are not the result of rape or incest. Under his Affordable Care Act, many insurance plans will be required to fully cover birth control without co-pays or deductibles.
Romney is campaigning as a staunchly pro-life candidate in this election, but his stance has shifted since he originally supported choice when he ran for Massachusetts governor despite his personal opposition to abortion. He has voiced his belief that Roe v Wade should be overturned by a future Supreme Court, so that states can make the decision individually. He has said he would stop federal aid to Planned Parenthood.
However, Romney refused to sign an anti-abortion pledge put forth by Susan B Anthony List, a conservative non-profit organisation that seeks to illegalise abortion in the US, which would bind him to excluding pro-choice candidates from certain government positions.
The national debt - the accumulated total of deficits plus interest - helped cause a downgrade in the US' credit rating in 2011, after bipartisan politics in Congress temporarily stalled in raising the debt ceiling. National debt is currently more than $15tn. Republicans want to close the budget deficit - the annual gap between government spending and revenue - by slashing government spending, while Democrats advocate a mixture of reduced spending and raising taxes to close the gap. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that under current fiscal policies cumulative deficits will reach $11tn by 2022 if left unchanged.
Obama has unveiled a plan to cut the national debt by about $4tn over a decade. The strategy hinges on eliminating wasteful spending in government programmes like Medicare and generating revenue by ending some of the Bush-era tax cuts for high-income households and closing tax loop holes. The plan also includes troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, imposing spending caps for future overseas military operations, and a $32bn cut on direct payment to farmers over 10 years.
Romney wants to bring federal spending down from 24.3 to 20 per cent of GDP by 2016. He plans to reduce spending by repealing Obama's healthcare reforms, privatising Amtrak, cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, cutting funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and cutting foreign aid.
Romney's plan has drawn criticism for lacking specifics, which he has said would be worked out by Congress.
Polls indicate that the economy continues to be the single most important election issue to voters. Jobs and employment, as cornerstones of the economy, have been at the forefront of presidential debate. The unemployment rate, which has become stagnant at around 8.2 per cent, has been persistently high, although the economy has shifted from losing to gaining jobs in the last four years.
Obama, who took office during a severe economic recession, has presided over a gradual recovery. He has pushed job policies that include initiatives to improve manufacturing jobs, push exports via free trade agreements, prevent job outsourcing, and provide new support for education and training. He also believes short-term government spending on infrastructure and hiring more state and local workers will create between 1 and 1.9 million new jobs.
Obama's "Bring Jobs Back Home Act", which would have provided a 20 per cent tax break for companies moving jobs back to the US and eliminate expense deductions for companies overseas, failed to clear Congress.
Romney says his private sector experience as CEO of Bain Capital makes him an ideal candidate for job creation. In response, the Obama campaign has accused Romney of heading a carpet-bagging corporation that destroyed domestic companies, sent jobs overseas, and forced bankruptcy onto a number of firms.
Romney's proposed approach to creating jobs hinges upon less regulation, a balanced budget, more trade deals to promote growth, and cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 from 35 per cent. He has also proposed replacing unemployment benefits with an unemployment savings account, as well as repealing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that gives the federal government new powers to regulate Wall Street after the financial meltdown of 2008.
How much Americans should pay in taxes has been one of the primary points of economic debate. At the end of the year, automatic tax increases and spending cuts will kick in unless action is taken to reverse them, including Bush-era tax cuts that were lauded by Republicans and disparaged by Democrats.
Obama wants to increase taxes on the wealthy so that they pay at least 30 per cent of their income. He favours extending Bush-initiated tax cuts for everyone making under $200,000 ($250,000 for couples), even though he approved a two-year extension of the lower rates for everyone in 2010. He also unveiled a plan earlier this year to reform the corporate tax code by cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 28 per cent while eliminating dozens of business tax breaks.
He has also said he would slash the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 per cent, and eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains - earnings from investments - for families earning less than $200,000.
In public schools across the country, performance continues to fall short of federal standards.
Meanwhile, former President George W Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law, which standardised testing of students and introduced a system of school penalties for low test scores, is still on the books. While the bill was originally passed with bipartisan support, a rewrite of the law has stalled in Congress due to disagreements among the two parties.
Obama approved waivers to excuse states from central provisions of "No Child Left Behind", with more than half of the states currently receiving exemptions. He also launched the "Race to the Top" competition, which has awarded billions of dollars to states agreeing to use test scores to evaluate teachers, promote charter schools – public schools exempt from many standard regulations in exchange for results - and undertake other Obama-backed reforms. His administration has also introduce nationwide standards in reading and maths which have been adopted by 45 states.
Romney supports the federal obligations dictated by the Bush-era's "No Child Left Behind" law. He believes that the federal government should have less control of education, and that education reform should be left to individual states. In general he is in favour of charter schools, facilitating school choice - the option for students to attend schools outside their districts - and using vouchers, or subsidies that would help families afford private schools, or transportation costs, for out-of-districts schools.
A poll conducted by the Brookings Institute found that 62 per cent of Americans now believe the climate is changing, and almost half of them attribute their belief to changes in weather patterns. While Democrats tend to rally behind curbing carbon emissions, many Republicans continue to express their doubts about the science behind global warming, also warning against the possible negative economic impacts of changes to energy policy. Fears over the rising price of energy sources in the face of an uncertain economy is also a primary voter concern.
Obama has repeatedly voiced his belief that human activity contributes to climate change. But during his first term, he failed to enact large-scale federal regulation, including the “cap-and-trade” bill to limit carbon emissions. He has been praised by environmentalists for new regulations in fuel economy standards that will force car makers to nearly double the average gas mileage of all cars and trucks by 2025.
Despite a temporary freeze on off-shore drilling after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, is currently "at an eight-year high" under Obama, and all forms of energy production have increased under his administration. The president has allocated $90bn for green energy projects - like the development of wind and solar power - and intends to cut oil imports in half by 2020.
Romney has expressed scepticism about the causes of climate change, a shift from former statements he made while he was governor of Massachusetts. He opposes "cap-and-trade" initiatives and efforts to regulate carbon emissions. The centrepiece of Romney's energy plan is to make North America energy-independent by 2020. He plans to do this by expanding fossil fuel production - including opening up protected lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling - and empowering states to speed up fracking, a controversial drilling technique used to extract natural gas, on federal land. He also plans to discontinue government investments in wind and solar power.
While polls indicate that Americans are far less concerned with foreign policy than bread-and-butter issues, recent protests and violence at US foreign missions across the world, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, has focused debate on how each candidate would approach such challenges if elected. Obama's approach to foreign policy, which favours diplomacy and negotiation over war, has been blasted by Republican for being "hands-offs" and weak.
Afghanistan: Plans to withdraw troops by the end of 2014 and favours a negotiated peace involving the Taliban.
China: Did not designate the country as a "currency manipulator" to avoid possibility of a trade war. Brought lawsuits against the country to the World Trade Organisation regarding unfair trading practices.
Iran: Committed to blocking the development of nuclear weapons, but favours diplomacy and economic sanctions to solve the issue, unless Iran makes concrete steps to acquire the bomb.
Israel/Palestine: Believes Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but that the issue must be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians. Called for a two-state solution with pre-1967 borders as starting point for negotiations in May 2011.
Afghanistan: Like Obama, would withdraw troops by 2014, but has rejected the idea of negotiating with groups like the Taliban.
China: Wants to label China as a "currency manipulator" out of belief that the country's unfair policies steal jobs from Americans.
Iran: Also committed to preventing the development of nuclear weapons. Says he differs from Obama seeing a need for "action, as opposed to just words", but also believes the US should avoid military action.
Israel/Palestine: Shares Obama's view that peace must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians. Backs Israeli military action against Iran.
The events of July 20, 2012, when a gunman opened fire in a Colorado cinema and shot 12 people dead, have put the topic of gun control back into the limelight in the election run-up. While Democrats traditionally support more restrictions on gun ownership, Republicans tend to block further controls.
Obama promised in 2008 not to take away anyone's guns, and has since then repeatedly voiced his support for the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. During his first term, he has not passed stricter gun laws, despite saying he would push for a renewed ban on assault weapons and close loopholes that allow gun purchases without background checks at gun shows. He also signed a bill legalising the carrying of concealed guns in national parks and in luggage on Amtrak, the US rail system.
Romney, a member of the US biggest gun lobbying group National Rifle Association since 2006, has said he does not support any gun-control legislation, although he supported several new such laws during his time as Massachusetts governor, including a ban on some assault weapons and background checks.
A key legacy of the president's first term, the Affordable Care Act, labelled by Republicans as "Obamacare", is the most significant reform of the US health system since 1965. Although it was upheld by a US Supreme Court ruling, Republicans are still lobbying for a repeal of the law - which mandates everyone to buy health insurance - on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
Obama's healthcare law - and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it - is widely regarded as the president's biggest political victory. The sweeping set of reforms aims to get more Americans insured and will provide an estimated 30 million impoverished citizens with medical coverage.
Romney plans to repeal "Obamacare" if elected, even though he passed a similar healthcare bill on a state-level when he was Massachusetts governor. Romney says that the decision to penalise uninsured Americans should be left to the states, not the federal government.
With an estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the US as of 2011, the politically explosive issue of immigration was reignited this summer when Obama halted deportation for some youths brought illegally to the US as children, which critics saw as an attempt to bypass Congress. In addition, the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a controversial Arizona immigration law on the basis that states do not have the power to enforce federal laws in local jurisdictions was hailed as a victory for Democrats. At the same time, Obama failed to enact a complete overhaul of the immigration reform as promised in 2008, blaming the economy and partisan politics.
Obama supports the DREAM Act - a bill creating a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants enrolled in college or enlisted in the military - which stalled in a deadlocked Congress. In June 2012, he issued a directive providing illegal immigrants, who arrived in the US as children, protection from deportation and the possibility to apply for work permits if they meet certain criteria.
Obama's first term saw a record number of illegal immigrants deported, with almost 400,000 forced to leave in 2010 alone.
Romney opposes the DREAM Act and offering legal status to illegal immigrations who attend college – although he favours creating a pathway to citizenship for those that served in the armed forces. He wants to establish a national immigration-status verification system for employers and sanction workers who hire non-Americans without work authorisation. He also supports building a US-Mexico border fence.
Once a primary concern on previous campaign trails, the issue of "terrorism" has received less attention during this election cycle. A major reason for this has been the killing last year of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, by a team of Navy SEALs on Obama's orders.
The Obama administration introduced a policy that the US would no longer use harsh interrogation techniques for "terrorism" suspects. Amid much criticism following the deaths of civilians, it has significantly increased the use of unmanned drones, defending their use with the argument that they do not put US troops in harm's way.
While Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay during his 2008 campaign, suspects continue to be detained there.
Romney believes that foreign "terrorism" suspects should have no constitutional rights and has said he would allow more aggressive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, which many consider to be a form of torture. He has also criticised the president's use of sanctions and diplomacy as not being not assertive enough, but has not been explicit about how he would proceed if elected.
One of the greatest disagreements between Republicans and Democrats centres on how big a role the federal government should play in regulating business, social, and everyday life. While Democrats tend to favour greater government intervention - from spending, taxes, or bailouts - Republicans generally advocate for states' rights and smaller central government.
Obama believes the federal government should play an integral role in regulation. He has backed a number of measures that give the federal government a greater role, including his healthcare reform bill. He also instituted a federal stimulus plan, which injected $800bn into the economy to promote recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, and supported a 2009 bailout of the failing auto industry.
Romney is critical of much government regulation, and believes in lowering taxes and encouraging a free market economy. He sides with tea partiers and conservatives on their complaints about big government, and champions states' rights instead. He has criticised Obama for "excessive regulation" and taxes, which he says have made businesses wary of hiring. Romney also wants to reduce the size of the federal work force.
With public opinion about same-sex marriage becoming more favourable, the role of the issue in the upcoming election is uncertain. In the US, same-sex marriages are legal in only a handful of states. The Defence of Marriage Act bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and gives individual states the possibility to refuse recognition of such marriages.
Obama reversed his stance on same-sex marriage earlier this year, announcing he supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage and taking the Defence of Marriage Act off the books. He also backed the repeal of "Don't Ask Don’t Tell", which barred openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from serving in the military.
Romney is against same-sex marriage. If elected he plans to uphold the Defence of Marriage Act and add a federal amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage.
Preserving social security entitlements and Medicare - a programme that provides medical coverage for seniors - is non-negotiable for Democrats. Republicans, on the other hand, see these programmes as opportunities to reduce spending. While both parties agree that changes are necessary, the debate centres on the shape those changes should take, which are currently the greatest threats to the federal budget over the coming years.
While Obama has repeatedly pledged not to privatise social security, he has not proposed concrete reforms to amend the programme. His Medicare reforms slashed $716bn from the programme, but he has defended his proposal by saying the cuts rid wasteful spending and rein in insurance companies without touching benefits.
Romney, like Obama, is against privatising social security, and opposes plans to hand it over to individual states. He plans to raise the retirement age and link benefits to prices rather than wages, which is the present practice. Romney says that for people who are currently retired now, or who are 55 and older, nothing will change, but those who are 54 and younger will receive a fixed payment from the government, adjusted for inflation, to pay for either private insurance or a Medicare-modelled government plan.
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