1. Defense industry employees
There are few differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney as distinct as the difference between their plans for the military. Mr. Obama has already started implementing a plan to make the military smaller and more flexible. Romney, by contrast, wants to increase defense spending. The choice could have a significant impact on the aerospace and defense industry, which employs millions of Americans.
According to research from the consulting firm Deloitte, the U.S. aerospace and defense industry directly employed 1.05 million workers in 2010. More than 3.5 million U.S. jobs overall were either directly or indirectly related to aerospace and defense -- not including skilled workers employed by the federal government or airlines. California had the most workers associated with the defense industry in 2010, with 162,162 direct industry employees and 641,378 people directly or indirectly associated with it. After California, the states with the most defense employees were Washington, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Connecticut and Virginia.
These people work for companies like Advex, a defense contractor in Hampton, Va., that makes precision parts for aircraft carriers, or Electric Boat, which employs engineers, welders, carpenters and others to build nuclear attack submarines in Connecticut.
This sector would surely benefit from a Romney administration. The Republican candidate says he wants to set defense spending at a minimum level of four percent of the Gross Domestic Product and would build 15 new warships every year, compared to the president's nine. According to independent estimates, Romney would increase defense spending by more than $2 trillion dollars over 10 years.
"We have to make decisions based upon uncertainty, and that means a strong military. I will not cut a military budget," Romney said in the Oct. 22 presidential debate.
By comparison, Mr. Obama has already cut projected Defense Department spending by $487 billion over a decade, allowing only for growth with inflation -- in other words, he is essentially keeping defense spending flat. Mr. Obama in January unveiled a new defense strategy for a smaller, more flexible military force, which he said will prepare the nation for the threats of the future while restoring balance between the defense budget and domestic spending. "The size and structure of our military and defense budget have to be driven by a strategy--not the other way around," Mr. Obama said then.
While the election will certainly impact the industry, the biggest hit could come before the next presidential term. Defense cuts totaling around $500 billion could go into effect January 1 unless Congress acts to avert them.
2. Potential Medicaid recipients
Mr. Obama and Romney have profoundly different aims for Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care coverage for more than 55 million Americans with low incomes and disabilities, including more than 4.6 million low-income seniors and more than 31 million children.
Under Mr. Obama's leadership, Medicaid is set to greatly expand health care coverage for low-income Americans. Romney would reverse that expansion and leave control of the program mostly up to the states.
The president expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Currently, there's no federal requirement for states to provide health coverage for non-pregnant adults without dependent children. Under the Affordable Care Act, however, that changes in 2014, when Medicaid will be available for anyone with an income under 133 percent of the federal poverty line.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the expansion would make health care coverage available for 16 million more Americans. The Supreme Court ruled this summer that states don't have to participate in the expansion, so it may help fewer than that -- as of Oct. 18, six states said they would reject the plans for expansion. Still, its impact will be significant.
Romney, of course, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would reverse the expansion of Medicaid. On top of that, Romney would convert Medicaid into a "block grant" program, giving states more flexibility over how to run the program. Romney has proposed limiting the growth of Medicaid block grants annually to the cost of inflation plus one percent, which is lower than the annual growth of health care costs.
"I would like to take the Medicaid dollars that go to states and say to a state, you're going to get what you got last year, plus inflation, plus 1 percent, and then you're going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best," Romney said in the Oct. 3 presidential debate. "And I remember, as a governor, [thinking]... we can care for our own poor in so much better and more effective a way than having the federal government tell us how to care for our poor."
Romney says his plan would save $100 billion annually, but it would also mean millions of Americans would lose coverage -- in addition to the 16 million who would no longer be eligible for Medicaid because of the Affordable Care Act.
In the Oct. 3 debate, Mr. Obama said Romney "talked about Medicaid and how we could send it back to the states, but effectively this means a 30 percent cut in the primary program we help for seniors who are in nursing homes, for kids who are with disabilities... If we're talking about a family who's got an autistic kid and is depending on that Medicaid, that's a big problem. And governors are creative. There's no doubt about it. But they're not creative enough to make up for 30 percent of revenue on something like Medicaid."
Mr. Obama was referring to a study conducted by the Urban Institute for the nonpartisan, nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which looked at the impact of a Medicaid plan put forward by Romney's running mate Paul Ryan. The Ryan plan is very similar to Romney's. The study found that under this plan, nearly 31 million would lose Medicaid coverage, with 14 million losing coverage because of the shift to a block grant approach.
3. Wealthy people
Mr. Obama has made it clear: In his second term, he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. Romney wants to lower, not raise, income tax rates for everyone.
One of the president's biggest promises in this election is to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for the highest-earning Americans. Income over $250,000 for couples and over $200,000 for single filers would be taxed at a higher rate. Currently, the highest income brackets are 33 percent and 35 percent; Mr. Obama would let part of the 33 percent bracket and all of the 35 percent tax bracket rise to Clinton-era tax rates: 36 percent and 39.6 percent.
Additionally, Mr. Obama's been advocating the "Buffett Rule," which would compel those making $1 million or more a year to pay the same overall rate as other taxpayers. Taxpayers making $1 million or more often make their fortune through investment income, which is currently taxed at 15 percent.
On top of that, the president wants to raise capital gains taxes from 15 to 20 percent for top earners and reinstate the estate tax on inherited income above $3.5 million, taxing any inheritance above that threshold at 45 percent.
As a means of strengthening Social Security, Mr. Obama has also floated the idea of lifting the payroll tax cap, so that higher income is hit with the tax.
Romney, meanwhile, has focused his tax reform proposals on easing the tax burden for the middle class -- but he isn't asking wealthy Americans to pay more, as Mr. Obama is. Some of his policies, such as his proposal to eliminate the federal estate tax, would help wealthy Americans. For those with income under $200,000, Romney wants to eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest. For wealthy Americans, he would keep the capital gains tax at 15 percent, rather than Mr. Obama's proposed 20 percent.
Most significantly, Romney has proposed lowering all marginal income tax rates -- bringing the highest rate down from 35 percent to 28 percent -- and making up for the lost revenue by limiting deductions and closing tax loopholes.
4. Government workers
Mr. Obama believes that job losses in the public sector -- when local governments could no longer pay for teachers or firefighters, for instance -- contributed to the recession and need to be remedied with federal assistance. Romney believes that the federal government shouldn't be handing out stimulus and, in fact, should be cutting more government jobs.
When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, there were 2,790,000 federal employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In September 2012, there were 2,814,000. Facing pressure over the cost of government, however, his administration froze salaries for 2011 and 2012 at 2010 levels.
State and local government, meanwhile, shrank under the Obama administration from 5,198,000 to 5,069,000 -- in spite of the $48 billion allocated to state and local governments through the stimulus. The president last year unveiled a plan, called the American Jobs Act, which would have invested $35 billion more to keep teachers, policemen and firefighters on the job. The jobs bill, however, went nowhere in Congress.
In June, Romney assailed the president for advocating more government spending on the public sector, "He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message in Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
Romney says on his website that he wants to reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent, letting go of two public employees for every new one hired. He's also said he wants to consolidate and potentially eliminate some departments, but he hasn't said which ones. Since he wants to cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP without cutting defense spending, Romney would have to make cuts in non-defense spending.
So for a bureaucrat working at the Environmental Protection Agency, a second Obama term may mean more job security. For a teacher in a district that's eyeing another round of layoffs, Mr. Obama may be interested in providing assistance, but he may not be able to do much without the support of Congress.
Targeting the wealthy with tax increases would, by the very nature of the policy, impact relatively few Americans. Still, it could have a significant effect on the economy. The White House says it could raise $1.16 trillion to pay down the deficit simply by ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy and reinstating the estate tax on the wealthy. And as the rich have grown richer, their share of the tax burden has increased as well: In 2009, the wealthiest 20 percent of households paid 67.9 percent of federal taxes according to the Congressional Budget Office.
5. People with pre-existing conditions who lack health care
Mr. Obama's Affordable Care Act included a rule, slated to go into effect in 2014, barring insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions. It's one of the most popular aspects of the contentious health care reform bill.
Romney has said that he intends to keep protections for people with pre-existing conditions -- as long as they maintain continuous coverage. In other words, when a person switches jobs, their new insurer cannot deny them coverage. There's already a 1996 law on the books, though, that offers that protection.
Romney has said he would leave any further rules on the issue up to the states, telling CBS' "60 Minutes" in September that "different states have different ways of" providing for the uninsured.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported earlier this year that between 36 million and 122 million Americans have pre-existing conditions.