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Towards a cliffhanger US election

Tuesday’s presidential election in the US is expected to be nail-bitingly close and President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney are running neck and neck in the polls.

The main issue in this election has undoubtedly been the economy, and to a lesser extent ‘Obamacare’. Americans will be asking themselves whether the high jobless rate is due to the recession that was in full swing when Mr Obama took office four years ago or whether the President’s policies aggravated the situation.

Mr Obama will go to the polls on Tuesday with the highest rate of unemployment of any President seeking re-election, 7.9 per cent, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr Obama inherited a very difficult economic situation when he first entered the White House – the worst since the Great Depression – and acted to prevent the US economy from sinking from a recession into a depression.

His $768 billion stimulus plan was instrumental in getting the economy moving again and his bailout of the US auto industry saved it from disappearing into history. Mr Obama also passed important Wall Street and banking regulations.

Mr Obama’s health reform legislation, through his Affordable Care Act, extended health insurance to more than 30 million Americans who were previously uninsured. This can only be a good thing; ironically, this extension of healthcare is the same measure taken by Mitt Romney to citizens of Massachusetts when he was Governor of the state.

In foreign policy Mr Obama acted decisively and correctly in Libya and Egypt at the height of the Arab Spring, he understood the need to go down the diplomatic route on Iran’s nuclear programme before considering a military option and deserves credit for taking on al-Qaeda’s leadership, including Osama bin Laden. Internationally, Mr Obama has done much to improve America’s image.

The US President also ended the war in Iraq and US troops will soon leave Afghanistan. The situation in both these countries is far from stable or ideal, yet Mr Obama was left with few options; he did, after all, inherit two difficult wars from the previous Bush administration.

Mr Obama has also managed to balance the need to be firm with China with the importance of engaging with it.

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, his failure to get the peace talks moving again is certainly disappointing; hopefully, the President will dedicate more time to this issue if he returns to the White House.

The two candidates have clashed over economic policy during this campaign: Mr Obama has promised to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year. He has also proposed to increase the tax rate for millionaires.

Mr Romney has promised to reduce federal government spending, to make all Bush-era tax cuts permanent, and to cut a whole range of individual and corporate taxes. However, Mr Romney has also promised to increase defence spending by $100 billion.

While Mr Romney’s business experience will certainly be an asset if elected President, the Republican candidate has changed his position on a number of important issues and it is not clear whether his foreign policy will revert back to the neo-conservative policies of George W. Bush.

On climate change, the President’s leadership – as made clear by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who endorsed him – has meant that America has taken important steps to reduce its carbon consumption. Mr Romney, on the other hand, seems less convinced about the need to tackle this crucial issue.

Although Mr Obama has been somewhat vague on how he intends to reduce the country’s massive deficit if re-elected – something he would urgently need to address – on balance the President deserves a second term.

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