The 2016 election has stirred intense debates on a variety of topics — from email servers to Skittles to the exact percentage of Americans who are deplorable — but policy has not been at the forefront. The details of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s positions are wildly different, but they can be difficult to sort out. One candidate — we won’t say who — has a web of lengthy policy proposals on their website, and the other has been known to take contradictory positions within the same sentence. In an effort to clarify the policy choice before voters in this election, we’ve compiled a guide — which will be updated — to each candidate’s stance on the top issues facing Americans.
Clinton is in favor of a $12 federal minimum wage and supports local efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. She’s said she would sign a $15 federal minimum-wage bill if it were phased in gradually and the effects in areas with lower costs of living were evaluated.
As catalogued by the Washington Post, Trump has taken every stance on the issue, from saying “wages are too high” to apparently backing the Fight for $15 to saying there shouldn’t even be a federal minimum wage. In August, a campaign official said: “Mr. Trump has voiced support for raising it to $10 at the federal level, but believes states should set the minimum wage as appropriate for their state.”
Much of Clinton’s policy agenda would be funded by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. She’s proposed a 4 percent “fair share surcharge” on those who make more than $5 million per year, to ensure that “the richest Americans pay an effective rate higher than middle-class families.” This would essentially raise the top marginal rate from 39.6 percent to nearly 44 percent. She would try to close various loopholes that benefit the affluent, and try to implement the “Buffett Rule,” which would prohibit those earning more than $1 million from paying less than a 30 percent tax rate.
In September, she increased the top rate in her plan for estate-tax reform. She initially wanted to increase the estate tax to 2009 rates, going from the current 40 percent back up to 45 percent. Now she says estates worth more than $500 million for an individual or $1 billion for a couple should be taxed at 65 percent.
Another large aspect of Clinton’s tax plan is to close loopholes to discourage U.S. businesses from relocating overseas. Her plan involves cracking down on inversions, in which U.S. companies merge with foreign firms to avoid U.S. taxes, by creating a 50 percent merger threshold and imposing an “exit tax” on untaxed overseas earnings. She would also offer new rewards and incentives for companies that invest and create jobs in the U.S.
Trump’s plan offers a large tax cut for businesses and wealthy Americans. He says low- and middle-income families would get tax cuts as well, but that’s disputed. He would cut the top income-tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of income-tax brackets from seven to three. (Thirty-three percent for married couples making more than $225,000, 25 percent for couples making $75,000 to $225,000, and 12 percent for those making less than $75,000.) He would increase the standard deduction for joint filers to $30,000 from $12,600 and the standard deduction for single filers would be $15,000. Trump would eliminate the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax, and the marriage penalty.
Trump wants to cut the tax rate for corporations from 35 percent to 15 percent. He would also end the deferral of taxes on foreign profits and offer a repatriation holiday of 10 percent to encourage businesses to bring profits back to the U.S.
Clinton has been inconsistent on international trade deals over the course of her career. She was initially in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which her husband signed in 1993, but called the agreement “flawed” during her first Senate campaign. She helped negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership when she was in the Obama administration, then disavowed it in October 2015, saying it did not meet her standards. She’s promised to “stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages” as president, and said of the TPP, “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.” She said in August that “when countries break the rules, we won’t hesitate to impose targeted tariffs,” though she did not give specifics.
Trump often rails against globalization and international trade agreements, saying they’ve taken jobs from American workers. His anti-free-trade stance represented a huge break with the Republican Party (though he may be bringing the party to his side). Trump says he will either renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA, and he called TPP “a rape of our country. It’s a harsh word, but that’s what it is — rape of our country.” He’s called for imposing tariffs as high as 45 percent on goods made in Mexico and China.
Clinton supports collective bargaining rights for teachers unions, said she’ll push to forgive some teachers’ student loans, and proposed a campaign to “elevate and modernize the teaching profession.” She was endorsed by the National Education Association, but booed at the union’s annual meeting in July when she expressed support for public charter schools (though she is against for-profit charter schools). Clinton has called for implementing universal pre-K for every 4-year-old in America in the next decade and dismantling the “school-to-prison pipeline.” While she does not discuss the issues frequently, she is in favor of Common Core and against school vouchers.
Trump has promised that, “as your president, I will be the biggest cheerleader for school choice you’ve ever seen.” He said his first budget will redirect $20 billion in federal funds for a block grant run by the states that would allow poor children to attend charter and private schools. He’s called Common Core standards a “disaster” and said, “we’re gonna end it.” Trump has suggested the Department of Education should either be cut back or eliminated entirely. “Now, you maybe want to have a little bit of tentacles out there, make sure everything — but largely we can eliminate the Department of Education,” he told Sean Hannity in April.
By 2021, Clinton wants tuition at in-state public colleges or universities to be free for families with an income of up to $125,000. (Initially, tuition would only be free for students from families making $85,000 or less). She also wants community colleges to offer free tuition.
She’s in favor of expanding repayment and deferment options for student loans and believes borrowers should not have to pay back more than 10 percent of their income, or carry student debt for more than 20 years. She would take “immediate executive action” to implement a three-month moratorium on student-loan repayments for those with federal loans to allow them to consolidate, refinance, or sign up for income-based repayment plans.
Trump does not support making tuition free at public colleges. “There’s no such thing as free education, because you know that ultimately somebody else is going to be paying for that education. The taxpayers,” he said in April. At a rally in late September, he blamed colleges for the rising cost of tuition and said he’d work with Congress to link federal funding and tax breaks to schools making “good-faith efforts” to reduce tuition costs.
He’s suggested he would take the government out of the student-loan system and privatize it, but he has yet to release a comprehensive plan to make college more affordable — though, he’s said he’s working on a “great plan” on student-loan debt that will be released within the next month.
Clinton has promised not to cut Social Security; in fact, she plans to expand payments to widows and those who take time off to act as caregivers to “their children, aging parents, or ailing family members.” She would fund this by increasing Social Security payroll taxes on those who earn more than $250,000. Clinton is against privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age, and reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments (the Democratic Party platform calls for increasing annual cost-of-living adjustments, but Clinton has not commented on this).
Like Clinton, Trump says he’s against cutting Social Security, raising the retirement age, or changing the way cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. However, in a letter to AARP, he alluded to examining “what changes might be necessary for future generations.” And in May, a top adviser said, “After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.”
When asked for specifics on how he would keep Social Security financially sound, Trump described his general economic plan. “If we are able to grow the economy, increase the tax base, bring capital and jobs back to the United States and encourage foreign direct investment, we will shore up our entitlement programs for the time being,” he told AARP.
Clinton believes climate change is an “urgent” threat to “our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures.” She’s vowed to make renewable energy the source of a third of the nation’s electricity by 2027, and to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 30 percent by 2025 relative to 2005 levels. Clinton says she will “deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference – without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation.” In an effort to avoid a battle with congressional Republicans, her plan does not mention putting a tax on carbon emissions, though that’s seen as one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change.
Trump has said climate change is “a hoax” that was “created by and for the Chinese,” though he acknowledged human activity may have a “minor impact” on global warming. He wants to cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and “cancel” the Paris climate deal, saying it’s bad for business and lets “foreign bureaucrats control … how much energy we use.”
Clinton wants to speed the United States’ transition to a clean-energy economy by installing half a billion solar panels during her term, cutting energy waste in American homes and offices by a third, and reducing American oil consumption by a third via “cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.” After much delay, Clinton said she opposed the Keystone XL pipeline.
Clinton supported fracking and promoted the industry around the world as secretary of State, but she modified her position while campaigning against Bernie Sanders, who is strongly against fracking. Now she supports allowing local bans on fracking, requiring chemical disclosures, and discontinuing fracking if the “release of methane or contamination of water is present.” She said at a debate in March, “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
She remarked around the same time that she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” The remark was seen as a gaffe, though in context she was talking about creating new economic opportunities for miners, and she’s proposed spending $30 billion over ten years to bring new jobs and industries to coal country.
Trump said the U.S. should be “energy independent,” though he also supported the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. He favors lifting many regulations on the oil and gas industries and drilling more.
In July, he took a position on fracking similar to Clinton’s, saying local governments should be allowed to ban fracking. During a speech in September, he promised that under a Trump administration “the shale energy revolution will unleash massive wealth for America,” and the U.S. will “end the war on coal and the war on miners.” Expanding both the coal and natural-gas industries is a “fundamentally incompatible concept,” as the New York Times put it.
Clinton did not support same-sex marriage in 2008, but, like many in her party, she “evolved” in the past eight years. During a 2011 speech in Switzerland, she declared, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” She says that as president she will continue President Obama’s push to ban “discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation” at the federal level. She’s also promised to ban gay “conversion therapy,” end discrimination against LGBT families in adoptions, and make it easier for transgender Americans to change their gender on official documents.
While Trump is more liberal than many Republicans, his stance on LGBT issues has not been consistent. In light of the Orlando massacre, he pledged in his convention speech to “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” However, he’s said he’s against the Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal and would consider “putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things.”
Trump has said transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they choose, but also that the decision should be left to the states. In May, he told the Washington Post that he would repeal Obama’s directives against transgender discrimination, but also said the government must act “to protect all people.”
Clinton has been strongly in favor of abortion rights for many years. In a speech to NARAL Pro-Choice America as First Lady, she called a woman’s choice on whether or not to have a child “a fundamental American value and freedom.” She’s promised to “stand with Planned Parenthood and stop Republicans from defunding the organization,” and is in favor of repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal money from being used for abortions.
In March, she said during a Fox News town hall that she supports some restrictions on late-term abortions. Her campaign said she “recognizes that Roe v. Wade provides that restrictions are constitutional later in pregnancy so long as there are clear exceptions for the life and health of the woman.”
Trump famously said in a 1999 interview that he was “very pro-choice,” but he revealed during the first Republican debate that he changed his position at some point between 1999 and 2011 because he had friends who considered abortion “and that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child.”
During an MSNBC town hall in March, he said “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, but later he said he meant doctors should be punished.
In September, Trump sent a letter to anti-abortion leaders in which he said he’s committed to nominating pro-life Supreme Court justices, banning abortion after 20 weeks, defunding Planned Parenthood, and making the Hyde Amendment permanent law.
Clinton has been a critic of China’s human-rights records dating back to her 1995 “women’s rights are human rights” speech in Beijing. Her website says the U.S. must work with China “where it is in our interest,” but also “press China to play by the rules — including in cyberspace, on currency, human rights, trade, territorial disputes, and climate change.” She’s seen in China as the architect of Obama’s “pivot” to Asia and is expected to continue that strategy.
Trump’s China policy calls for declaring the nation a currency manipulator, cracking down on intellectual-property theft, and bringing back jobs and manufacturing to the U.S. by renegotiating trade agreements — he’s said he’s in favor of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to the United States. He’s frequently attacked China on the campaign trail, saying, “[W]e can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.”
As secretary of State, Clinton helped lay the groundwork for the nuclear deal with Iran. She’s said her approach as president would be to “distrust and verify,” and under a Clinton administration the U.S. would “not hesitate to take military action” if Iran moves toward getting a nuclear weapon.
Trump has said that he would tear up the Iran nuclear deal, but an adviser said he would merely revise it. It’s unclear how he would go about this or what terms he would seek. “We should double up and triple up the sanctions and have them come to us,” he told CNN. “They are making an amazing deal.”
While Secretary Clinton famously pressed a “reset” button in 2009, by the end of her time in office she had privately acknowledged that U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated. She and Russian president Vladimir Putin have traded insults several times over the years, and she’s promised to stand up to him as president. Her website says, “She’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with our European allies and push back on and deter Russian aggression in Europe and beyond, and increase the costs to Putin for his actions.”
Trump’s tone toward Russia is unprecedented in U.S. politics. He’s said he’d consider a new alliance with Russia against ISIS, and his former campaign manager resigned after reports emerged detailing his work for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia political party. Trump has praised Putin for having “strong control” over his country and said he’s “far more than our president’s been a leader.” Following the hack of Democratic officials’ emails, which was believed to be the work of Russian hackers, Trump called on the nation to meddle in the election, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Family Leave and Child Care
Clinton wants to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which would be available to anyone caring for a new child or a seriously ill family member, as well as 12 weeks of medical leave to recover from their own illness or injury. This would be funded through taxes on the wealthy.
Clinton wants to implement universal preschool for every 4-year-old in America and ensure that families do not spend more than 10 percent of their income on child care. Her website says she’ll accomplish this by “increasing the federal government’s investment in child care subsidies and providing tax relief for the cost of childcare to working families.” When pressed for details, her campaign said it would release them “later.”
Trump would offer six weeks of paid maternity leave to mothers who have given birth, but not new fathers or adoptive parents. This would be funded by “recapturing fraud and improper payments in the unemployment insurance program.” He would also let parents deduct the average cost of child care in their state for up to four children, for individuals who make up to $250,000 and couples who make up to $500,000. Low-income families would get up to $1,200 in “spending rebates” via the earned income-tax credit.
Clinton would “defend and expand” the Affordable Care Act. She intends to have a “public option” insurance plan offered in all states and to allow people 55 and older to buy into Medicaid. To bring down costs for people who buy insurance on the exchanges, she would increase premium subsidies so that families will not spend more than 8.5 percent of their income on premiums. Those on the exchanges would also get a tax credit of up to $5,000 per family to cover out-of-pocket and premium costs above 5 percent of their income. Clinton wants to require private insurers to waive the annual deductible for at least three sick visits and limit out-of-pocket prescription drug costs to $250 per month.
Trump says that, on the first day of his administration, he “will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” (During a town hall, he said, “I like the mandate,” but he later clarified that he would get rid of the individual mandate as well.) He plans to work with Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act with a system that follows “free market principles,” such as allowing the sale of health insurance across state lines and letting people deduct health-insurance-premium payment from their tax returns. He would fund Medicaid through block grants to the states. To lower the cost of prescription drugs, he proposes removing the barrier to the importation of foreign drugs. Trump’s website says he would “allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts,” which Americans are already allowed to do.
Clinton has pledged to “introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to full and equal citizenship” within her first 100 days in office. She’s said that, despite legal challenges, she will defend President Obama’s executive actions on immigration — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parent Arrivals (DAPA) — and even expand the program to include the parents of “DREAMers.” In a break with the Obama administration, she says she will end family detention and close private immigrant detention centers. She believes undocumented immigrants should be allowed to purchase health care on the Obamacare exchanges, though for now they should not be eligible for subsidies.
Radically tough immigration policies are the centerpiece of Trump’s campaign, but he’s shifted on the specifics many times during his campaign. In fall 2015, Trump said he would have a “deportation force” remove the nation’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants. He estimated that the process would take about two years and said it would be done “humanely.” In August 2016, he said he may be “softening” on immigration; he toyed with offering otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants a path to legal status, only to declare in a major policy speech on August 31 that they must “return home and apply for reentry like everybody else” if they want to be legal U.S. residents. Five days later, Trump said he had yet to decide whether those who want legal status, but not citizenship, will be allowed to stay in the country.
Similarly, in December 2015, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” In May, he said that was “just a suggestion,” but a month later the ban was back on. In June, he said the ban would be on any country “where there is a proven history of terrorism,” but the plan for banning Muslims remains on his website.
In August, Trump proposed an “ideological test” for prospective immigrants that would screen for “Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred.” Since then, he’s put more emphasis on this “extreme vetting,” but it’s unclear if that’s replaced the Muslim ban.
According to Trump’s website, those caught crossing the border illegally “must be detained until they are sent home,” there should be increased penalties for those who overstay their visas, and the U.S. should end birthright citizenship.
Clinton’s plan says we need to “protect our borders,” but she’s said she’s more focused on immigration reform because, thanks to efforts to increase border security during the past 15 years, we “have the most secure border we have ever had.”
While there was some talk of a “virtual wall” from Trump surrogates, the candidate has never veered from his plan to build a physical wall across the southern border and make Mexico pay for it — though, the wall’s height has grown from 30 feet to 65 feet. Trump plans to collect the $5 billion to 10 billion to pay for the wall by threatening to freeze money transfers from the U.S. to Mexico. “It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year,” his campaign said. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto said after meeting the candidate that his country will not pay for the wall.
Clinton plans to defeat ISIS on the battlefield by intensifying coalition air strikes against the terror group in Iraq and Syria, increasing support for local Arab and Kurdish forces, and pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war. She’s also proposed working with technology companies to disrupt the group’s communications and recruitment efforts online.
Trump has said repeatedly that he has a “foolproof” plan to defeat ISIS, but he can’t reveal it because he wants to be “unpredictable” to the enemy. During the primaries, he suggested he was open to sending up to 30,000 ground troops to combat ISIS in the Middle East, but more recently he said he would “have very few troops on the ground.”
In September, he said he would give the generals 30 days to submit a plan for defeating ISIS. When pushed on why he would do this — particularly after declaring, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” — he said he’d scrap or modify his secret plan if he prefers what they come up with.
Clinton has called for reinstating a federal assault-weapons ban, saying in June, “I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets.” She’s called on Congress to strengthen background checks, including ending the “Charleston loophole” that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check is not completed within three days. Clinton said that as president she would take administrative action to close the gun-show and internet-sale loopholes if Congress fails to act. She is in favor of strengthening laws that keep guns from domestic abusers and the mentally ill, and wants to repeal the law that shields gun manufacturers from prosecution if crimes are committed with their products.
Trump is in favor of enforcing existing laws on background checks, but says on his website, “What we don’t need to do is expand a broken system.” He believes concealed-carry permits should be valid in all 50 states, and he opposes gun and magazine bans because “Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice.” He’s suggested that Americans will be safer if more people are armed, saying after the Orlando massacre, “If people in that room had guns with the bullets flying in the opposite direction right at him … right at his head, you wouldn’t have had the same tragedy that you ended up having.” He wants to get rid of gun-free zones but has made contradictory remarks on what that would entail.