Domestic Economic Issues rule third and final presidential debate

Becky Spaulding

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and President Barack Obama faced off on Monday night at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., for the third and final Presidential Debate of the 2012 election. The foreign policy debate was moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News.

Among discussions of rising terrorism in the Middle East, America’s role in the world, the war in Afghanistan, and the rising presence of China in the global economy were many disagreements about how things are handled at home, with the candidates often returning to domestic economy issues.

According to Dr. Paul Isely, professor of economics at Grand Valley State University, it isn’t surprising that the candidates’ debates often returned to the topic of American economy.

“There is a very high correlation between lower unemployment and vote share for the incumbent,” Isely said. “In fact, over the twentieth century, more than 50 percent of the variance in vote share between the incumbent and challenger could be explained by GDP growth (which is indirectly unemployment).”

“Right now, the unemployment rate is high enough that this is what people are worried about – which is bad news for the incumbent and good news for the challenger,” Isely said. “Therefore both candidates want to spend time focusing on the economy and how they will ‘solve’ the problems.”

With foreign policy on the agenda, a discussion of the terrorist attacks in Libya kicked off the debate, with Schieffer questioning the way the Obama administration handled it, as well as Romney’s opinion that “this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our eyes.”

Romney, who took a broader view instead of focusing simply on the attack, acknowledged Obama’s success in “taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaeda,” but said “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.”

Obama accused Romney of sending mixed messages to troops and allies alike with a constantly shifting position on terrorism in the Middle East, comparing their leadership styles as “strong, steady leadership” and “wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.”

Romney replied that he has a straightforward strategy: “To go after the bad guys, to kill them.”

Obama pointed out that the two men have similar views, however, when it comes to policy in Syria.

“He doesn’t have different ideas,” Obama said. “That is because we are doing what we should be doing to promote a moderate Syrian leadership and a – an effective transition so that we get Assad out.”

When the topic of America’s role in the world came up, Romney agreed that leadership is the key to success, but said that America has to “strengthen our economy at home” in order to take on that role.

“You can’t have 23 million people struggling to get a job,” Romney said.”We have got to get our economy going.”

Obama agreed that the world needs a strong America, and said that the country is stronger now than when he was elected four years ago, crediting the end of the war in Iraq with their ability to refocus their attention on terrorist threats, Afganistan, and “alliances and relationships that had been neglected for a decade.”
Obama shifted focus once again back to America – saying that the country needs to create its own jobs, “as we did with the auto industry, not rewarding companies that are shipping jobs overseas,” as well as strengthen the education system and “develop clean energy technologies that will allow us to cut our exports in half by 2020.”

Romney claimed that he will increase jobs at home by 12 million and raise take-home pay, and that America needs to “champion” small businesses and increase trade. He also said that he would get rid of Obamacare in order to balance the budget.

Obama pointed out that Romney supported budget cuts to education, “undermining our long-term competitiveness.”

Isely said that the back-and-forth about jobs at home could prove to be important to the candidates’ success.

“Romney wants to make sure he points out the weak economy, and Obama needs to defend this position from a strategic point of view every chance they get,” Isely said.

Obama and Romney agreed on an alliance with Israel, the use of drones, and the scheduled transition of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, but still maintained a heated rhetoric throughout the debate, reiterating many of their previously stated positions.

The final topic discussed was China and how its presence in the global economy affects America.

Obama pointed out that he’s brought about “more cases against China for violating trade rules … than the previous administration had done in two terms.”

Romney said that China could be a partner to the U.S., but that they may look at the deficit, the economy, and question whether that would be a good investment.

The conversation returned once again to American education, with Obama saying that without proper funding, we could lose our edge when it comes to things like clean energy technology.

“Cutting our education budget, that’s not a smart choice. That will not help us compete with China,” Obama said.

Romney spoke out against hiring more teachers, saying that “it’s so critical that we make America once again the most attractive place in the world to start businesses, build jobs, to grow the economy … that’s not going to happen just by hiring teachers.”

“I love teachers, but I want to get our private sector growing, and I know how to do it,” Romney said.

According to GVSU associate communications professor Danielle Leek, this debate will not necessarily sway voters when it comes to this election.

“Neither candidate really offered any new information, and most undecided voters won’t be making a decision based on foreign policy,” Leek said. “Overall, both candidates maintained their ground. The election will now be decided based on turnout of voters on Election Day.”

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