It’s been a long, hard slog, but the presidential race is finally coming to a close (back to good ole’ dish detergent and cereal commercials!). And for young people especially, the outcome could have a huge impact. There are some vast differences between what another four years of Democratic President Barack Obama will look like and a Republican Mitt Romney presidency.

So yes, it matters!

Now, don’t get me wrong. The president is not all powerful.  Some of the more grandiose campaign promises made by both candidates are just not feasible. Remember that the president, whoever he may be – can’t just snap his fingers and create new policies. There are plenty of limitations and checks on his authority. That’s the point of the whole balance of power thing that the Founders thought up way back when. The president still must work with Congress and the courts, and make compromises in pushing his agenda. There’s also just a limited amount of time to get stuff done, not to mention lots of unforeseen distractions that pop up on the job.Check out this animation for more explanation on the limits of presidential power.

But that all said, the president’s still got some serious sway. He is, after all, the leader of the richest, most powerful nation in the world. And  presidents try very hard to fulfill their campaign promises. The winning candidate will almost certainly make all efforts to move his agenda forward. And many of the campaign promises made by Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are starkly different. Here are seven issues – selected from a list compiled by the Associated Press – that will have a huge impact on today’s youth:

1. Abortion and birth control

Obama strongly supports access to abortion. He opposes efforts at both the federal and state level to limit that right. Under his healthcare law, contraceptives must be available at no cost for woman enrolled in workplace health plans.

Although Romney previously supported access to abortions, he now favors limiting it. He advocates for reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that established abortion rights, which would allow states to start banning abortion. He also supports ending all federal aid to Planned Parenthood, and has criticized the health law’s mandatory coverage as a threat to religious liberty.

Keep in mind that there will likely be at least one U.S. Supreme Court justice who ‘s going to retire in the next four years, meaning that whoever becomes president may very well get the chance to appoint a new justice in line with his own political views – and that appointee could well tip the balance if another legal challenge to abortion laws comes up.

For more on abortion …

2. Immigration

Obama has pushed for a path to citizenship for scores of young illegal immigrants. But efforts to pass the DREAM Act, as it’s known, have repeatedly failed. This June, Obama delayed deportations for thousands of young illegal immigrants who are currently or recently have been students. The order allowed them to apply for two year work permits.

Romney says he will veto the DREAM Act if it ever passes in Congress. He has said, however, that he would honor the two year work permits obtained under Obama’s new policy.  He promises to put a comprehensive immigration policy in place before the permits expire, and advocates for completing a steel fence along the Mexican border. He also opposes allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities.

For more on immigration  …

3. Higher Education

Obama advocates for  college to be more accessible. He successfully pushed for a $10,000 college tax credit over four years, as well as increases in Pell grants and other financial aid.

Romney argues that increases in federal student aid lead to higher tuition rates, and advocates for  private lenders to be involved in the federal student loan program.

For more on education ….

4. Health Care

Obama’s health care law will extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans and generally preserve Medicare and Medicaid.

Romney promises to repeal the health care law and move toward privatizing Medicare. He’s advocated for turning over Medicaid to the states.

For more on health care …

5. Civil Rights

Obama and his attorney general have fairly aggressively prosecuted cases of discrimination against blacks and Hispanics, including alleged discriminatory lending practices by banks and state voter identification laws that would keep a disproportionate percentage of minorities from voting.

Romney opposes many of the administration’s legal actions, and has indicated that the Justice Department should steer clear of such issues.He also also expressed support for voter ID laws as an effective method of preventing voter fraud.

For more on civil rights …

 6. Gay Marriage

Obama supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage, and says it should be left up to states to decide. He’s also spoken out against the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and his administration has stopped defending the law in court.

Romney advocates for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and is opposed to leaving it up to states to decide. He also opposes civil unions if they are equivalent in legal status to marriage.

For more on gay marriage …

7. Climate Change

Since 2009, when Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade bill failed to pass through Congress, his administration has taken moderate steps to reduce carbon emissions by treating it as a pollutant under the law. He has doubled auto fuel economy standards and allotted billions of stimulus dollars to investments in clean energy.

Romney’s view of climate change has changed. On the campaign trail last year he said: “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.” He’s also attacked Obama’s environmental regulation of coal power plants. He opposes treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and is against cap-and-trade programs. And while he does support making some investments in clean technology, he also warns that actions to curb emissions can be detrimental to a struggling economy.

Why It Matters: Seven Major Issues At Stake For Youth In This Presidential Race 18 November,2015Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor