This is an unbiased comparison of the policies and positions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties respectively in the 2012 election for President of the United States. In most cases, their political positions are aligned with the typical liberal and conservative ideologies in the U.S.
RESULT: Barack Obama won the election.
For election results by state, jump to the 2012 Presidential Election Results section.
Current tally for popular and electoral votes:
- Electoral votes: Obama - 332, Romney - 206
- Popular vote: Obama - 51.38%, Romney - 48.61%
Contents: Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney
Differences in Economic Policy
Highlights of Mitt Romney's tax plan include:
- Individual taxes
- Maintain current marginal tax rates; make the Bush tax cuts permanent (Romney's website is inconsistent on this issue as of Apr 13, 2012. The summary indicates he is proposing a 20% across-the-board cuts in marginal tax rates while the policy PDF file summary indicates he wants to maintain marginal tax rates at current levels.)
- Eliminate estate (inheritance) tax
- Eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for individuals with incomes below $200,000
- Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
- Corporate taxes
- Cut the corporate tax rate to 25%
- Make the R&D tax credit permanent
- Repeal the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
- Move to a territorial tax system where US companies will not have to pay U.S. taxes on income earned overseas even when repatriated.
In order to pay for these tax cuts, Romney has proposed eliminating certain tax deductions, such as mortgage interest deduction for second homes, state income tax deduction and state property tax deduction. Romney has also said he would look to the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for budget cuts.
Highlights of Barack Obama's tax policy include:
- Individual taxes
- Let Bush-era tax cuts expire for households where income is more than $250,000
- A "Buffett rule" where individuals with incomes more than $1 million are required to pay a certain minimum tax rate (30%) regardless of the source of their income
- Corporate taxes
- Tax credits for manufacturing firms
- "Eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas"
Stimulus Spending and Bailouts
As President, Barack Obama supported the bailouts for banks and other financial services firms like AIG, as well as the auto bailouts for GM and Chrysler. Romney opposed the auto bailouts and had proposed that the companies should have been allowed to file for bankruptcy.
Obama also passed a stimulus bill that included tax cuts as well as government spending, including programs like the "cash for clunkers" program. Romney opposes stimulus spending by the government because it adds to the deficit. Instead, he favors cutting taxes on individuals and businesses to stimulate growth.
Obama believes the 2008 financial crisis was a result of excessive deregulation of the banking industry and that government regulation is needed for when markets fail. But he has called for a review of regulations to eliminate ones that "don't make sense". Romney favors deregulation to foster a more business-friendly environment.
- Romney Nov 2011 Trade with China only if they follow international rules
- Obama Jan 2011 Double our exports by 2014; starting with South Korea
- Romney Mar 2010 Trade is good for the nation, but not good for everybody
- Obama July 2008 NAFTA protects corporate profits; should protect labor
Mortgage Modification and Housing Policy
- Romney Nov 2011 Let foreclosures happen; let the market reboot
- Obama July 2008 Prosecute mortgager fraud; require full mortgage disclosure
- Romney March 2010 Add individual retirement accounts as option
- Obama Sept 2007 Privatization puts retirement at whim of stock market
Healthcare is a contentious issue in the 2012 election because of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). President Obama signed the bill into law and is a strong supporter of universal healthcare coverage. Several provisions of the plan, including the controversial mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance, were modeled after the bill passed by Romney in Massachusetts when he was governor. However, Romney has said the bill is wrong at the federal level. Romney has promised to repeal the bill via an executive order if he gets elected president. Trying to differentiate between the Massachusetts law he signed and the federal law, Romney said:
I would repeal Obamacare, if I were ever in a position to do so. My experience has taught me that states are where healthcare programs for the uninsured should be crafted, just as the Constitution provides. Obamacare is bad law, bad policy, and it is bad for America's families.
Obama favors a government-run Medicare program while Romney believes that the federal government does a poor job of running Medicare and has embraced Paul Ryan's plan of overhauling Medicare. Highlights of Ryan's plan include:
- No changes for seniors currently already on Medicare or those over 55
- For future Medicare recipients, a voucher-based system that provides a fixed amount of money to seniors so they can buy health insurance on their own. The amount of money would increase every year to account for inflation (general inflation, which may be different from the inflation rate in healthcare costs). The amount of money would depend upon income so that high-income seniors would receive less assistance than the poor.
- The option to stay on Medicare in lieu of private insurance based on the voucher system.
Supporters of the Republican plan say that the private sector is likely to administer health insurance better than the government does with Medicare. They also predict that seniors will benefit from increased competition in the marketplace, which will drive down costs and improve quality. Critics have argued that Ryan's plan would weaken Medicare because private insurers will cherry-pick customers and only provide insurance to the relatively healthy, leaving sicker, higher-cost patients in the Medicare pool. They also say that seniors may be too old or too ill to make informed choices and deal with problems (such as billing errors, pre-authorization requirements) that may arise with private insurance. Finally, critics believe that if the value of the voucher does not keep pace with the rising healthcare costs, then seniors will be unable to afford health insurance.
Romney supports greater state control of the Medicaid program. The New York Times has argued that while Obama wants to greatly expand the number of people covered by Medicaid, Romney wants to greatly reduce the reach of the program.
The president envisions adding as many as 17 million people to the rolls by allowing everyone with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level to enroll, including many childless adults.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan would take Medicaid in the opposite direction. They would push for the repeal of the health care law and replace the current Medicaid program with block grants, giving each state a lump sum and letting them decide eligibility and benefits. (Currently, the federal government sets minimum requirements, like covering all children under the poverty level, which some states surpass. It also provides unlimited matching funds.) The grants would grow at the rate of inflation, with adjustments for population growth.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Mr. Ryan has proposed cutting federal spending on Medicaid by $810 billion over 10 years, largely from repealing the health care law. Mr. Obama’s expansion plan, by contrast, would cost an additional $642 billion over the same period, according to the most recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
- Romney Dec 2011 No FEDERAL individual mandate; but state mandate ok
- Obama Jan 2011 Repealing healthcare reform would cost $250B
- Romney Oct 2011 ObamaCare waivers on Day One; repeal bill on Day Two
- Obama July 2008 If we started from scratch, one-payer system would be best
On Gay Rights
Marriage equality (aka Gay Marriage)
In the 2008 election, Obama's stand was that he supported civil unions and according gay couples all the legal rights that married couples had. However, he did not support same-sex marriage. In May 2012, he revised his stand and said that he supports the right of gay couples to get married.
Mitt Romney holds a more conservative position on the issue. He wants to enact federal legislation outlawing gay marriage.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
President Obama repealed the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the military. Romney was not in favor of the repeal.
Obama supports Roe v. Wade while Romney has called for the landmark Supreme Court decision to be overturned. When contesting in Massachusetts elections (both for Governor in 2002 and for the U.S. Senate seat in 1994), Romney's position was different. He had said that while he was personally opposed to abortion on moral grounds, he agreed with the Supreme Court decision. He has said he had a change of heart in 2005.
When Obama was Illinois state senator, he opposed the Induced Infant Liability Act and repeatedly voted against requirements and restrictions intended to stop what opponents label "born alive" abortions. Obama said his opposition was because Illinois law already required medical care in such situations where the child is alive and because of technical language he felt might have "interfered with a woman's right to choose".
Obama voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, saying "On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I've said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn't have that." Obama voted against a bill that would have made it a federal crime for anyone other than a parent to accompany a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. Obama has, however, expressed support of bans on some late-term abortions, provided they include exemptions for the mental and physical health of the mother.
- Romney Mar 2007 Would welcome overturning Roe v. Wade
- Obama May 2004 Protect a woman’s right to choose
- Romney Jan 2012 Stem-cell cloning breaches an ethical boundary
- Obama Aug 2007 Stem cells hold promise to cure 70 major diseases
Under President Obama's term, the Department of Homeland Security has carried out more deportations than the Bush administration. However, in June 2012, President Obama announced a shift in immigration policy via an executive order. The new policy would stop deportations of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children (under 16), have finished high school, have no criminal record and are under 30 years of age.
The policy is similar to the DREAM Act but does not offer amnesty or a path to citizenship. It merely gives young immigrants a two-year work visa.
While voters approved of Obama's decision 2-to-1, Romney criticized it saying it was not a long-term solution because it was not a legislation but a Presidential executive order that could be overturned.
Romney's stated policy during the Republican primaries was to allow undocumented immigrants to "self-deport" by making it impossible for them to find work. Romney has said he is in favor of legal immigration, including giving green cards to international students who graduate from U.S. colleges and have the skills that the U.S. needs.
- Romney Jan 2012 Enforce employment laws; illegal immigrants will self-deport
- Obama Jan 2008 Immigrants are scapegoats for high unemployment rates
- Romney Sept 2011 Turn off the magnet that attracts immigrants
- Obama Jan 2012 Let foreign students stay after graduating college
- Romney Oct 1994 Help women through glass ceiling by requiring annual reporting
- Obama Aug 2008 Keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work
From the Washington Post reporting on the issues:
Obama has approved waivers to states for some of the most onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The Obama administration's Race to the Top competition has rewarded winning states with billions of dollars for pursuing education policies Obama supports. Won approval from Congress for a $10,000 college tax credit over four years and increases in Pell grants and other financial aid.
Mitt Romney supported the federal accountability standards of the No Child Left Behind law. He has said the student testing, charter-school incentives and teacher evaluation standards of Obama’s “Race to the Top” competition “make sense” although the federal government should have less control of education. Says increases in federal student aid encourage tuition to go up, too. Wants to see private lenders return to the federal student loan program.
- Romney April 2012: Mr. Romney said he would either consolidate the education department with another agency or make it "a heck of a lot smaller." "I'm not going to get rid of it entirely," he said.
- Obama Jan 2012 Make community colleges into community career centers
- Romney Nov 2008 My positions won't make me the hero of the NRA
- Obama Feb 2008 Respect 2nd Amendment, but local gun bans ok
Civil Liberties and Homeland Security
- Romney Jan 2012 Al Qaeda members are enemy combatants with no rights
- Obama Oct 2007 The politics of fear undermines basic civil liberties
Differences in Foreign Policy
In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine said that policy specifics from the two candidates were not dramatically different. She added that:
There is, at heart, an assertion across all of Mitt Romney's critiques of Barack Obama in the course of this campaign on foreign policy that comes down to America can be a shaper of events and not merely a passive reactor. He equates shaping events with proving or disproving American decline.
In an article for the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl outlined several foreign policy differences between the two candidates.
Obama wants to strike a new deal with Vladimir Putin to significantly cut the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. In what he thought was a private aside, Obama told then-President Dmitry Medvedev that “after my election, I have more flexibility” on that, referring to compromises with Russia on U.S. and NATO plans for missile defense. In contrast, Romney strongly opposed Obama’s New Start treaty with Russia, which made a small reduction in nuclear warheads, and has promised to boost spending on missile defense.
Both candidates support NATO’s plan to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. While some analysts say this means Obama and Romney's views are similar, Diehl has conjectured that Obama is more likely to reduce combat troops there in 2013 while Romney is more likely to follow the advice of U.S. generals who will advocate that combat troops not be cut.
A notable highlight of Obama's strategy against Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan is the use of drones. Although his administration claims the attacks are carefully targeted at major terrorists, they frequently kill civilians.
President Obama is opposed to arming the rebel forces in Syria and has repeatedly rejected proposals that the United States help establish safe zones for civilians. On the other hand Romney has voiced support for arming the Syrian opposition.
Romney and Obama have both said that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. Diehl has suggested that Obama
probably would use force only if Iran actually tried to build a bomb, while a Romney attack could be triggered if Iran were merely close to acquiring all the means for a weapon — which it is.
Obama supports a two-state solution with statehood for Palestine. Romney has not indicated that Palestinian statehood is among his top priorities. He has also expressed pessimism about there ever being peace in the region, calling the possibility "unthinkable". 
Position on Iraq
- Romney Dec 2006 Withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake
- Obama Jan 2012 For first time in 9 years, no Americans are fighting in Iraq
When Barack Obama was sworn in as President in 2009, he was immensely popular abroad. American popularity had waned during the Bush presidency but with Obama's election attitudes had begun to change. Expecting a major shift in foreign policy, the Nobel Peace Prize committee even chose Obama as the winner of the prize in 2009. However, his popularity abroad has decreased significantly since then.
Mitt Romney made some blunders on his foreign tour just ahead of the London Olympics when he made remarks about the under-preparedness of the city for the Olympics. This did not go over very well in the U.K. His fared better during his visit to Israel, whose Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has had a tenuous relationship with Obama.
The Obama administration has supported clean energy projects, some of which have failed like Solandra. He has postponed the final decision on the Keystone XL extension, the northern leg of the Keystone pipeline, until an environmental review is completed. In the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Obama administration forced BP to create a $20 billion spill response fund, announced a moratorium on permits for new offshore oil wells and ended the policy of granting environmental waivers to oil companies. However, these announcements did not prevent new permits from being issued. Read more about Obama's energy policy.
Mitt Romney announced his energy policy in August 2012 and proposed giving states the power to determine whether drilling and mining should occur on federal lands within their borders. Romney’s policy also calls for opening more offshore drilling options, including off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas. He is in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. Read more about Mitt Romney's energy policy.
A recent Congressional Budget Office report suggested that opening nearly all federal lands to drilling would yield just $7 billion in government revenue over the next decade—a vast difference from "trillions of dollars" estimated by the Romney campaign. Asked about the disparity, Oren Cass, Romney's domestic policy director, said the campaign was including revenues from both onshore and offshore drilling on federal lands and suggested the CBO had produced lower numbers by not including lease payments, royalties and taxes certain to be earned in coming "years and decades."
Romney has been criticized for favoring large oil and gas companies in his policies after they donated to his campaign.
- Romney Jan 2008 States should be able to have their own emissions standards
- Obama Aug 2007 Protect the Great Lakes & our National Parks and Forests
- Romney Oct 2011 Replace "green jobs" program with American competitiveness
- Obama April 2008 Genesis teaches stewardship of earth: sacrifice for future
All Presidential debates begin at 9:00pm Eastern time (6pm Pacific).
The first presidential debate was held on October 3, 2012 at the University of Denver and was moderated by Jim Lehrer. Most analysts and viewers were of the opinion that Romney won the debate.
An analysis of the claims made during the debate is available on factcheck.org.
Here's the full debate video:
Ahead of the debate, the Wall Street Journal published on Facebook this analysis contrasting the positions of the two candidates:
The second debate was held on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. It was a town-hall style debate where ordinary people will ask questions to the two candidates. It was a tense debate and the exchange became testy on several occasions, with both candidates being aggressive and attacking each other's record and policies. The full video is presented below and analysis of the debate can be found here, here and here.
Fact Checking for the Second Debate
Several organizations published analyses after the debate fact-checking the claims made by the two candidates, including:
- Bloomberg fact-checking on Detroit bankruptcy, taxes and tax math, Libyan embassy attack, immigration, contraception, energy production and coal jobs
- FactCheck.org analysis covering many of the same issues as the Bloomberg analysis, but also including wind power "imaginary" jobs, taxes on the middle class, gas prices and women's jobs
The third and final presidential debate was held on October 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Although billed as a foreign policy debate, the discussion often veered into domestic issues such as the economy and education. The debate was moderated by Bob Schieffer. Here's the full video of the final debate:
Chances of winning
The key battleground states are Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire. Three weeks before the election, John Cassidy analyzed the opinion polls and dissected them state-wise to determine the probability of Obama winning another term:
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Romney carries Florida and Virginia. According to my map, that would leave him with 248 votes, still twenty-two short of victory. If he also wins Colorado and New Hampshire, both of which I have listed as toss-ups, he would get to 261 votes, leaving him needing nine more to reach 270. That means he would have to win Ohio or Wisconsin, or Iowa and Nevada. The good news for Democrats is that Obama appears to be holding onto his leads in all four of these states. That’s his firewall.
Opinion polls show Obama and Romney in a statistical dead heat the week before the election, with Obama holding a minor lead in swing states according to most polls, but well within the margin of error. BBC News has a great poll tracker that visually plots the various opinion poll results over time.
These charts show the chances for Obama and Romney in the 2012 presidential election, as predicted by the market on Intrade.com. While opinion polls showed a dead heat, the prediction markets almost always gave Obama a more than even chance of winning. By election day, his chance of winning as predicted by Intrade prices, was close to 2 in 3.
Nomination Acceptance Speeches
Other notable speeches included Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention and Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.
- List of books authored by Barack Obama (Amazon.com)
- List of books authored by Mitt Romney (Amazon.com)
Obama vs Romney Presidential Election Results
Summary of 2012 Presidential Election Results
|Washington, D.C.||3||Barack Obama|
|New Hampshire||4||Barack Obama|
|New Jersey||14||Barack Obama|
|New Mexico||5||Barack Obama|
|New York||29||Barack Obama|
|North Carolina||15||Mitt Romney|
|North Dakota||3||Mitt Romney|
|Rhode Island||4||Barack Obama|
|South Carolina||9||Mitt Romney|
|South Dakota||3||Mitt Romney|
|West Virginia||5||Mitt Romney|
Election Results in swing states
|New Hampshire||4||Barack Obama||TBA|
|New Mexico||5||Barack Obama||TBA|
|North Carolina||15||Mitt Romney||TBA|