In November Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney will lead the US and translating what they say on the campaign trail isn't always easy.
What will a president Romney do differently to a president Obama? It’s worth noting that nailing down Romney’s specific policy decisions is a challenge.
While there are consistencies - mostly in terms of staying right of centre fiscally - there are few specifics. Since his first major political run for Massachusetts senator in 1994, Romney has changed his tune on several major issues (for the US electorate anyway) such as abortion and gun control.
Romney has also been forced, through the nature of Republican primaries, to run farther right than he wanted to, and he will most likely attempt to backtrack to the centre once he thinks the right-wing section is satisfied.
The other factor in play will be whether Congress actually passes anything. Since the 2010 midterm when the Republicans won back the House of Representatives (and the Democrats clung on to their Senate majority), Congress has stalled like a learner driver. Political one-upmanship hasn’t just come to the fore - it has dominated legislative proceedings.
Assuming that Romney continues on his current path and members of Congress begin to justify their salaries, let’s have a look at the issues Americans will be keeping an eye on.
Economy, taxes and spending
We all know America’s economy is in a doldrum and the two men have diametrically opposite points of view on how to solve it.
While Obama admitted that the gaping deficit and debt pile were a problem, his budget proposal for the next financial year did not deal with it as aggressively as his opponents.
Romney, on the other hand, endorsed a plan drawn up by House Budget Committee chairperson Paul Ryan, which slashes spending as if the government had lost its job.
Obama intends to deal with the deficit through cuts, a tax hike on the super-rich (formally known as the Buffet Rule), and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for households pulling in more than $250 000 per year. Ryan (and therefore Romney) would review and slash programmes like welfare, food stamps and Medicare (government healthcare provisions for the elderly) without increasing tax revenue on America’s wealthiest.
Ryan’s proposals would cut $6.2-trillion over the next decade and reduce federal spending to a maximum of 20% of gross domestic product. Obama has run four consecutive years off a $1-trillion-plus deficit.
The Congressional Budget office says that the current administration’s 2013 budget would create a $1.25-trillion deficit, and its long-term plan would stabilise this at around 3% by 2016.
Basically, Obama would increase revenue with mild cuts while Romney would slash at federal spending with a whippy chainsaw.
As president, Romney would repeal Obama’s signature law: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (known colloquially as Obamacare).
This detailed national healthcare plan, currently being debated by the nine Supreme Court justices, would provide every American with medical aid through a complicated logistical process.
Ironically, the Obama administration based the Act on legislation passed in Massachusetts under the then reign of - you guessed it - Mitt Romney.
While Romney doesn’t have a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare nationally, he claims the responsibility for this sort of thing should be sent to state governments - an oft-suggested conservative philosophy applied across the board.
Romney maintains his plan was specific to the concerns of Massachusetts and should not be applied nationally. Obamacare will most likely only survive if the Supreme Court upholds it - and Obama wins a second term.
In a nutshell, Obama - if re-elected - would maintain the implementation of the Act, while Romney would repeal it.
Usually it’s Romney’s point of view that we struggle to decode. On immigration, though, it’s Obama’s views that become murky.
Since he began campaigning in 2007, Obama has called for immigration policy reform but has yet to take any formal stance. It’s because of this lack of progress that some states (like Arizona) have come up with their own laws, which have turned out to be rather discriminatory.
The Obama administration is contesting these laws by saying they conflict with federal law.
While the administration has been lax on policy, it has been active in deportations and under Obama’s watch the US has deported over one million illegal immigrants, dwarfing previous administrations.
While Obama is hard to pin down on immigration, Romney is most certainly not. He has been a vocal proponent for the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants - basically making people so miserable that they are forced to leave.
He also backed laws requiring immigrants to carry identification documents (in the land of the free) in case they were suspected or questioned (without probable cause) of being there illegally.
One hardly needs to draw a picture to see how this can lead to racial profiling. Romney has also said he would veto the proposed Dream Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to obtain US citizenship if they fulfilled certain criteria.
This stance has seen Republicans take a knock from Latino voters by around 40 points - a demographic usually conceded to Democrats, but not by so much.
Obama would “tackle immigration”, while a president Romney would hammer illegal immigrants and people who looked/acted/seemed like them.
The stance on homosexuality has always been a contentious political topic but public perception of the dangers posed by homosexuals has chilled remarkably over the last decade.
In fact, one of the states legalising gay marriage, New Hampshire, saw a Republican-majority state vote defy a motion to put the state’s pro-gay marriage laws up for referendum.
While California’s Prop 8 fortunes have snatched headlines, both Maryland and Washington legalised gay marriage this year.
Obama has yet to endorse gay marriage, claiming his point of view was “evolving”. He did repeal the Clinton administration’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which banned being openly gay in the US military. Obama also recently criticised attempts to entrench the prohibition of gay marriage in state constitutions in North Carolina and Minnesota.
Although Romney backed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as a progressive step when he ran for Massachusetts senator in 1994 and advocated civil rights for gay couples as governor of the same state, he is not as friendly since he began running for president for the first time in 2007.
Massachusetts legalised gay marriage under Romney’s watch but this was done through the courts and not the state legislature.
The Republican candidate has long backed civil unions for “non-traditional” couples without having mentioned this during his campaign but has not been pro-gay marriage.
During a presidential debate with the other Republican candidates, Romney, along with everyone on stage, did nothing when the crowd booed a gay soldier who asked a question.
Under president Romney, any kind of federal gay marriage legislation will not pass. Romney signed a pledge, put together by the lobby group the National Institution of Marriage, which “ [defined] marriage as the union of one man and one woman” while also calling for Supreme Court judges to be appointed who are opposed to gay marriage.
President Obama would do very little new for gays while hinting that he might, while a president Romney would do very little else for gays.
Republicans are taking a walloping from women in the polls, which show a yawning gap between women who favour the Democrats and the minority who intend to vote Republican. Some polls have it as high as 18 points, while others have it as low as 13 points. Either way, Romney has a problem which is not entirely of his own making.
Fears of what policies Romney would enact if he becomes president are most likely dictated by his party. Since Republicans took control of a host of state legislatures in the 2010-midterm elections, the number of Bills limiting women’s rights to abortions has exploded.
It’s not all the party though: Romney publicly backed a state “personhood” amendment, which defines a fertilised egg as a person.
His view means that anything affecting the pregnancy could conceivably be defined as murder, including, most obviously abortion, but also the morning after pill and some other forms of contraception.
Romney has pledged to end government funding for Planned Parenthood which, although providing abortion services (a clear Republican no-no), also assists poor women with preventative healthcare.
It is expected that Romney will oblige a Republican presidential candidate calling for the overturning of the Supreme Court’s Roe versus Wade decision which bars government from banning abortion.
Obama, on the other hand, is aiming directly at women regarding policy - one of the most-discussed points of his healthcare Bill was forcing healthcare providers (including those of religiously-affiliated institutions) to include contraception in their plans.
This was unsuccessfully countered by the Senate-drawn and Romney-backed Blunt Amendment, which would have permitted employers to dictate healthcare plans under the guise of religious freedom (this was Romney’s most recent high-profile flip-flop as he disagreed with the Bill and then agreed with it an hour later).
Obama also hosted a women’s conference at the White House in April and his entire campaign bent over backwards to distance itself from a Democrat-aligned CNN pundit who scoffed at Romney’s wife claiming to “work” as a stay-at-home mother.
President Obama (assuming the Supreme Court plays ball) will insist on contraception being included in his healthcare plans, will federally fund Planned Parenthood and will not mess with abortion. A president Romney would not force anyone to cover contraception, defund Planned Parenthood but probably also won’t change abortion rights.