Report: Obama and Romney Diverge on Innovation Policy

September 12, 2012

WASHINGTON (September 12, 2012) - As with so many other issues, there are significant differences in how President Obama and Governor Romney would approach tax, trade, and federal investments to advance innovation; but across dozens of issues related to technology and the digital economy there is more common ground, according to a side-by-side comparison released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Comparing the 2012 Presidential Candidates' Technology and Innovation Policies presents an objective comparison of the candidates' positions on over 60 discrete issues across ten policy areas: Innovation and R&D, Tax, Trade, Manufacturing, Broadband and Telecommunications, Online Privacy, Education and Skills, Energy Innovation, Regulation, and Life Sciences and Biotechnology. The report is based on information gathered from campaign websites, party platforms, Administration documents, and media reports of statements by the candidates.

"We welcome the fact that the candidates are talking about innovation and competitiveness," said ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell, the report's chief author. "This non-partisan report endorses neither candidate. Instead, it seeks to drill down from rhetoric to reality and evaluate the candidates' positions on what ITIF sees as critical elements of innovation-based economic policy."

The report begins with an overview of each candidate's general philosophy on technology and innovation policy. Broadly, President Obama believes in a more activist role for government in promoting innovation. His Administration is the first to release A Strategy for American Innovation, a National Broadband Plan, and A National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act allocated billions of dollars to spur investments in broadband, the smart grid, and health IT, at the Administration's urging. Going forward, President Obama has called for increased investments in R&D and education.  However, he has focused less on regulatory and tax policy changes to spur innovation.

Governor Romney believes the government's role should be more focused on providing a supportive environment/ecosystem in which private sector initiative can thrive and is more suspect of activist policies to ensure desired private sector actions. Romney's Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth proposes tax, regulatory, labor market, education, energy, and fiscal policy reforms that he argues would catalyze private-sector innovation. While the Romney Plan recognizes public investment in basic research and advanced technology has helped spur advances by the private sector, it addresses only energy innovation and not the broader role of federal R&D investment in other areas. Moreover, R&D policy in a Romney Administration would most likely be focused on investments in basic research and less on closer-to-market applied or translational research.
On trade policy, both candidates would seek to deepen and strengthen trade ties through new multilateral agreements, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership now being negotiated, and both call for more aggressive enforcement of trading obligations. However, Governor Romney takes a tougher stand with regard to China, pledging that a Treasury Department under his Administration would declare China a currency manipulator, a step previous Democratic and Republican administrations have declined to take.

On IT policy (e.g., Internet, e-commerce, and telecommunications), the differences are less pronounced. For example, President Obama has called for legislation to address both online privacy and cybersecurity through stronger regulatory controls. While Governor Romney has not explicitly supported or opposed proposed online privacy or cybersecurity legislation, he has generally argued for a more limited role for government and has criticized regulatory efforts by the Obama Administration. However, the Romney campaign has not ruled out additional legislation or executive action on cybersecurity. Neither candidate has made issues such as reforming electronic surveillance laws or children's online privacy part of the campaign.

ITIF prepared a similar report on the candidates' positions in the 2008 presidential contest.


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank at the cutting edge of designing innovation strategies and technology policies to create economic opportunities and improve quality of life in the United States and around the world. Founded in 2006, ITIF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-partisan organization that documents the beneficial role technology plays in our lives and provides fact-based analysis and pragmatic ideas for improving technology-driven productivity, boosting competitiveness, and meeting today's global challenges through innovation. For additional information, visit ITIF at or contact Steve Norton at (202) 626-5758 or [email protected].