Comparing McCain and Obama on the Issues

Over a historically long and demanding election tour, the presidential candidates have had to adapt and change their stances on some of the key issues facing Americans today. See a side-by-side comparison of where the candidates stand coming down the home stretch.

[Photo of Barack Obama]

Barack Obama


[Photo of John McCain]

John McCain


Foreign Policy

In recent weeks, foreign policy has taken a back seat to the flailing economy, but significant strategic and ideological differences remain between the candidates on relations with developing countries, and rising superpowers.

Their Platforms

  • Favors direct diplomacy withought preconditions.
  • Proposes increased involvement in the United Nations and NATO.
  • Work toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
  • Lift restrictions on family travel to Cuba.
  • Pressure the U.N. to deploy peacekeepers to Darfur.
  • Proposes the creation of a "League of Democracies."
  • Reduce nuclear stockpiles, but keep enough to deter attacks.
  • Keep embargo and travel restrictions on Cuba.
  • Proposes more pressure, rather than talk, in dealing with Iran, and other hostile nations.

How They Voted

United States - India Nuclear Agreement
Voted Yes   Voted Yes
Habeas Corpus for detainees of the United States
Voted Yes   Voted No


  • Proposes draw down of one to two brigades a month, which would remove the U.S. from Iraq by summer of 2010.
  • Opposed the military invasion of Iraq in 2002, and opposed the 2007 "troop surge."
  • Supports leaving residual forces to perform specific missions in Iraq.
  • Does not support a withdrawal timeline based on an arbitrary date, but on ground conditions.
  • Supported declaring war in 2002, and the 2007 "troop surge," as an early proponent of the strategy.
  • Said economic progress is essential to sustaining security gains.
HR 4156: Supplemental Appropriations for the Department of Defense and Timeline for Withdrawal from Iraq
Voted Yes   Did Not Vote
2007 Iraq Troop Reduction and Time Between Troop Deployment Amendments
Voted Yes   Voted No


  • Said he would sent at least two additional combat brigades and would seek greater contributions, and less restrictions, from NATO allies.
  • Proposes an additional $1 billion in nonmilitary assistance each year.
  • Has stated that he would engage terrorist targets along the Afghan-Pakistani border with or without Pakistan's assistance, and/or approval.
  • Argues that the worsening insurgent threat is not a lack of U.S. troops, but Pakistan's unwillingness to properly patrol its border.
  • After the secuity gains of Iraq over the summer, he advocated sending three additional brigades to Afghanistan.
  • Proposes doubling the size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, paid for by an international trust fund financed by the U.S. and its allies.
HR 2642: Iraq and Afghanistan War Funding, Unemployment Benefits Extension and GI Bill.
Voted Yes   Did Not Vote


  • Said the U.S. should meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions.
  • Supports sanctions and positive incentives.
  • Supports air strikes as a last resort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities.
  • Said the U.S. should only meet with Iranian leaders if preconditions are met.
  • Spoke of leading a worldwide financial divestment campaign, and called for tougher sanctions.
  • Said that an attack against Iran could be authorized by the President alone if the threat were "imminent," and required "immediate action."


  • Called for restraint and avoided assigning blame following Russia's invasion of Georgia.
  • Do not expel Russia from G8.
  • Delivered a fiery denunciation of Russia's invasion of Georgia, but became more conciliatory over time, saying "I'll work to establish good relations with Russia so that we need not fear a return to the Cold War."
  • Expel Russia from G8.


  • Proposes pressuring China to revalue its currency to eliminate any unfair advantage with the U.S. in trade.
  • Has called China neither an enemy nor friend, but a "competitor."
  • Proposes a more effective regional framework in Asia building on the bilateral relations and informal arrangements similar to the six party talks on North Korea
  • Supports a U.S. policy that will "hedge" against China's growing global influence by maintaining a military presence in East Asia, strengthening alliances in the region.
  • Calls on increased transparency toward its significant military buildup.
  • "Until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values."


Amid falling home prices, hemorrhaging investment accounts and rising unemployment rates lies two presidential candidates with conflicting accounts of what began, and what will end the nation's economic turmoil.

Their Platforms

  • Believes in free markets, but argues that government regulation is necessary.
  • Advocates a $50 billion emergency economic stimulus plan focused on jobs for rebuilding infrastructure and schools.
  • Proposes tightening federal ethics and contracting rules, including through a new clearinghouse to assess corporate tax breaks.
  • Proposes eliminating income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Creation of a new "Making Work Pay" tax credit of up to $500 per person or $1,000 per working family.
  • Opponent of a summer "gas-tax holiday."
  • Index the minimum wage to inflation.
  • Propose eliminating all capital gains taxes on start-up and small businesses.
  • Proposes creation of new financial institution to detect and prevent failures of banks, investment brokerages and insurance companies.
  • Stimulus plan revolving around tax cuts for businesses; cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and business tax credits for research and development.
  • Proposes an oversight board to monitor the bailout.
  • Advocates a spending freeze on everything but national defense, caring for the veterans and entitlement programs.
  • Advocates for more domestic offshore oil exploration and drilling.
  • Advocated for a summer "gas-tax holiday" to ease consumer prices at the pump.
  • Vows to veto and eliminate all earmarks.
  • Advocates keeping the top tax rate at 35 percent, maintaining the 15 percent rates on dividends and capital gains, and phasing-out the Alternative Minimum Tax.

How They Voted

Economic Stabilization/Bail Out Bill
Voted Yes   Voted Yes
HR 5140: Economic Stimulus Plan: Tax rebates and increases federal mortgage loan limits
Did Not Vote   Voted Yes
HR 4297: Bush Tax Cut Extension
Voted No   Voted Yes
To cut nearly $40 billion from the federal budget by imposing substantial changes on welfare, child support and student lending programs
Voted No   Voted Yes
HR 6:Offered tax breaks and incentives in what supporters said was an effort to spur oil and gas companies to provide innovative ways to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, conserve resources and reduce pollution
Voted Yes   Voted No
S 256: Made it harder for people to erase debt by declaring bankruptcy
Voted No   Voted Yes


For many Americans, job prospects are grim. Manufacturing jobs continue to be outsourced or lost to poor economic conditions, and the rising cost of college makes it even harder for the middle class to transition to a post-industrial economy.

Their Platforms

  • Creation of an Advanced Manufacturing Fund to identify and invest in manufacturing strategies.
  • Proposes making the Research and Development tax credit permanent.
  • Propose eliminating all capital gains taxes on start-up and small businesses.
  • Invest $250 million per year to increase the number and size of public-private business incubators in disadvantaged communities.
  • Supports the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike if necessary.
  • Proposes doubling funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers program, which funds after school programs.
  • Proposes making the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit refundable and allowing low-income families to receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses.
  • Proposes expanding the Family Medical Leave Act.
  • Calls on the federal government and the 50 governors to anticipate loan problems and expand the lender-of-last resort capabilities for each state's guarantee agency.
  • Advocates enhancement of international competitiveness to keep jobs here by lower corporate tax rates, greater investment and research incentives, and controlled spending.
  • Proposes building 45 nuclear power plants by 2030, which he claims will create 700,000 new jobs.
  • Cosponsored the Family Friendly Workplace Act, which sought to allow employers to provide flexible work schedules to help employees balance the demands and needs of work and family.
  • Says the U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules.
  • Says the U.S. should be encouraging the growth of jobs through more free trade agreements.
  • Supported the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993.

How They Voted

HR 2: Increases the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour over two years.
Voted Yes   Voted Yes


Predatory lending practices and irresponsible borrowing have led to skyrocketing foreclosure filings, and the demise of several prominent companies on Wall Street.

Their Platforms

  • Proposes 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and a two-year tax break for businesses that create jobs.
  • Proposes the creation of a 10 percent universal mortgage credit to provide homeowners without itemized tax relief.
  • Introduced the Stop Fraud Act to increase funding for federal and state law enforcement programs and creates new criminal penalties for mortgage professionals found guilty of fraud.
  • Proposes providing liquidity to financial institutions and markets, and helping families restructure mortgages.
  • Proposes $10 billion for a foreclosure prevention fund that would provide loan assistance to homeowners who are victims of fraud.
  • Supported Fannie and Freddie bailout.
  • Wants to give homeowners the chance to have their loan modified, provided they meet certain criteria.
  • Supported government aid to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from collapsing, but did not vote for the Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act in July.
  • Supports government backed mortgage relief for sub-prime mortgage holders, and allowing homeowners struggling to pay adjustable rate sub-prime mortgages to switch to a 30-year fixed rate.
  • Proposes creation of a Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust (MFI) to help companies avoid bankruptcy while protecting their customers. Also, advocates using this money to let people restructure their home loans.

How They Voted

Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008
Did Not Vote   Did Not Vote
Housing Reform Package: The bill offered tax breaks to home builders and other businesses suffering during the economic slump
Did Not Vote   Did Not Vote


Proponents of free trade say it increases opportunities to sell U.S. goods overseas, while opponents argue that U.S. jobs have and will continue to be lost.

Their Platforms

  • Says that NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people. He would immediately call the leaders of Mexico and Canada to try to amend NAFTA.
  • Would eliminate tax breaks for companies that are moving overseas.
  • Trade adjustment aid, tax cuts for businesses keeping American jobs.
  • Public contracts to be awarded to companies that are committed to American workers.
  • The U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules.
  • Give president "fast-track authority" for trade deals.
  • Opposes most tariffs and subsidies.
  • Voted yes on NAFTA in 1993. Called himself "the biggest free marketer and free trader that you will ever see."

How They Voted

Central America Trade: A bill to implement tariff reductions and other changes to U.S. trade law that were part of a Central America Free Trade Agreement, which includes the Dominican Republic
Voted No   Voted Yes

Environment & Energy

Over the course of the last four years perhaps no issue has become as hotly debated as global warming and the energy sources that most scientists blame for its worsening effects.

Their Platforms

  • Said the development of clean energy solutions would be his number one priority if he were elected president.
  • Proposes to invest $150 billion over 10 years in biofuels, fuel infrastructure, the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, the development of commercial scale renewable energy, the investment of low emission coal plants, and the transition to a new digital electricity grid.
  • Proposes creation of a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that requires 25 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025.
  • Extend the Production Tax Credit, a credit used successfully by American farmers and investors to increase renewable energy production and crew new local jobs.
  • Proposes implementing an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
  • Proposes developing domestic incentives that reward forest owners, farmers and ranchers when they plant trees, restore grasslands or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Advocates auctioning off all emissions credits, and limiting the use of offsets.
  • Supports raising fuel-economy standards by four percent, roughly one mile per gallon, each year. Proposes spending $4 billion to help U.S. automakers upgrade their plants to produce more efficient cars and trucks.
  • Generally opposes opening additional U.S. waters to offshore oil drilling, but says he would consider it as part of a comprehensive energy plan that includes incentives for renewable energy.
  • Calls for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for 30 percent of the federal government's electricity to come from renewables by 2020.
  • Has said we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix, but has also said nuclear is not a great option because of problems with safety and storage and because it usually requires big government subsidies.
  • Calls for improving energy efficiency in the U.S. 50 percent by 2030.
  • Supports raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 40 miles per gallon and light trucks to 32 mpg by 2020.
  • Proposes cap and trade plan to reduce emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
  • Proposes to give away emissions permits to industries, and allow unlimited use of offsets.
  • Says he would more effectively enforce existing fuel-economy standards, but offered no specifics.
  • Calls for lifting the federal ban on offshore oil drilling in new areas, but had opposed new offshore drilling until Jun 2008.
  • Supports increased use of biofuels, but has not offered specific targets.
  • Opposes subsidies for ethanol.
  • Supports "clean coal" and proposes spending $2 billion a year to help develop the technologies.
  • Calls for government support for the nuclear industry.
  • In 2003, McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced the first-ever climate bill to the Senate: the Climate Stewardship Act, which would establish a carbon cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. emissions. The bill is less stringent than many other climate bills currently in Congress. It would cap global-warming emissions from utilities, industry, and transport at 2004 levels by 2012 and then gradually decrease emissions to abut 30 percent of 2004 levels by 2050.
  • Cosponsored EFFECTER Act (Efficient Energy Through Certified Technologies and Electricity Reliability), which would have provided tax incentives for energy-efficient offices, homes, and appliances, and included various other energy efficiency measures.

How They Voted

June 6, 2008: The U.S. Senate refuses to limit debate -- by a vote of 48-36 -- on an amendment for a bill that called for the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a program to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases
Did Not Vote   Did Not Vote
December 21, 2005: The U.S. Senate rejects, by a vote of 56-44, a motion to limit debate on fiscal 2006 Defense spending bill that would open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration
Voted No   Voted Yes
June 22, 2005: The U.S. Senate rejects, by a vote of 44-53, a motion to table a resolution sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that expressed the opinion of the Senate on climate change legislation. The legislation addresses the need to control the emission of greenhouse gases. The resolution was then adopted by a voice vote
Voted No   Voted No
HR 6049: Alternative Energy Tax Incentives: Vote to invoke cloture
Voted Yes   Did Not Vote
HR7081: India Nuclear Agreement
Voted Yes   Voted Yes
S Amdt 1538: Clean Energy Achievement Criteria - to table any pending legislation
Voted Yes   Did Not Vote

Gun Control

The constitution protects Americans' right to bear arms, but how far should those protections reach to assault rifles and background checks?

Their Platforms

  • Voted against Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
  • Voted for a 2005 amendment placing restrictions on rifle ammunition that is designed or marketed to be armor piercing.
  • Supports closing the loophole on gun show background checks.
  • Called to permanently reinstate assault weapons ban.
  • Obama voted against 10 year extension of the assault weapons ban.
  • Did not sign a friend-of-the-court brief that urged the Supreme Court to overturn the District of Columbia gun ban.
  • Has supported several restrictions on gun ownership, including bans on assault weapons and semiautomatics.
  • Voted for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a bill to prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others.
  • Supports instant criminal background checks, and law should extend to guns shows.
  • Does not support banning assault weapons or requiring mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases.
  • Voted against placing restrictions on ammunition designed or marketed to be armor piercing.
  • Supported overturning District of Columbia gun ban.

How They Voted

On the nomination: Confirmation of John G. Roberts, Jr., to be Chief Justice of the United States
Voted No   Voted Yes
S 397: Firearms Manufacturers Protection bill - A bill to prohibit liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition of damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the misuse of their products by others.
Voted No   Voted Yes

Gay Rights

Both candidates say marriage should remain between a man and a woman, but they remain quite distanced on the intricacies of the issue which encompasses the military's "Don't ask, don't tell policy."

Their Platforms

  • Opposes same-sex marriage, but also opposes a constitutional ban.
  • Says he would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment.
  • Supports full civil unions that "give same-sex couples equal legal rights and privileges as married couples, including the right to assist their loved ones in times of emergency as well as equal health insurance, employment benefits, and property and adoption rights."
  • Says the Employment Non-Discrimination Act should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Advocated legislation that sought to expand federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Supports repeal of military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.
  • Voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, but voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment.
  • Says states and local governments should set their own marriage policies.
  • Voted against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act of 1996.
  • Says that gay adoption is a state issue and does not endorse any federal legislation.
  • Supports continuation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

How They Voted

Senators on June 7, 2006, failed, 49-48, to reach the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex unions. A yes vote backed a measure stating in part: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.
Voted No   Voted No

Health Care

Is health care a right, responsibility or privilege for every American, and how does answering this question translate into the presidential candidates' policy?

Their Platforms

  • Called healthcare a "right for every American."
  • Would create a national health insurance program for individuals who do not have employer-provided healthcare and who do not qualify for other existing federal programs.
  • Plan would expand eligibility for Medicaid and State's Children's Health Insurance Program.
  • Requires coverage for all children.
  • Establish a tax credit for those in need.
  • Advocates allowing insurers to keep current insurance if happy, nothing changes, except your costs will down by as much as $2500 per year.
  • Advocates coverage of pre-existing conditions.
  • Employers that do not offer coverage or make a meaningful contribution to the cost of quality health coverage for their employees to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of their employees' health care.
  • Estimates the cost at between $50 billion and $65 billion, to be paid for by eliminating Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 a year.
  • Proposes investing $10 billion a year during the next five years to implement standard-based electronic health information systems, which would include electronic health records.
  • Called healthcare a "responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member."
  • Supports giving every American family a $5000 refundable tax credit, and individuals $2500 that you can take anywhere.
  • Opposes federally mandated universal coverage. Believes competition will improve the quality of health insurance.
  • Supports health care tax dividends for low income Americans, and encourages small businesses to band together to negotiate lower rates with health care providers.
  • Says families should be able to purchase health insurance nationwide, across state lines.
  • Would increase awareness and promote the use of existing children's health insurance programs while expanding community health centers.
  • End tax exemption for employer-based insurance.
  • Allow people to buy out-of-state insurance.
  • Thinks individual responsibility will lower costs.
  • Work with state governments to cover uninsured.

How They Voted

July 15, 2008: The U.S. Senate votes 70-26 to override President George W. Bush's veto of the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008.
Did Not Vote   Did Not Vote
HR 976: Expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The bill increases total funding for the program to $60 billion over the next five years and provides health insurance for 9 million currently uninsured American children
Voted Yes   Voted No
S amdt 4299: Expressing the sense of the senate on the legalization of imposing certain prescription drugs
Voted Yes   Did Not Vote

CREDITS: Adam Ross (editorial), Alyson Hurt (design),

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