US presidential election 2012: Obama vs Romney tech showdown

It has been a whirlwind few weeks in the tech world, with the launch of Windows 8, the formal unveiling of the Windows Phone 8 handset line-up, the arrival of EE's 4G LTE network in the UK, and the announcement of new additions to Google's Nexus oeuvre captivating wholesale nerds, casual techies, and enterprise leaders alike.

In some ways, the start of 2012's penultimate month draws a line under this collective consumer bonanza, and while we're all for bestowing elevated status upon mobile phones, tablets, and operating systems, November is set to begin in an altogether more significant fashion with the 2012 United States presidential election

In addition to marking the culmination of months of campaigning from both of America's main political camps, the next 24 hours (give or take, pedants) will deliver either a re-election for Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, or anoint Republican challenger Mitt Romney as the 45th President of the United States. It's a fascinating showdown. Were the world voting, Obama could have popped the craft beer months ago (see graph, courtesy of the BBC, below), but the reigning President has been under intense scrutiny of late on home soil.

Obama's first term in office has underwhelmed many pundits and citizens alike. Inconsistent debate performances have given the Romney camp considerable hope, though Mr Obama has been widely praised for his handling of Superstorm Sandy. Mr Romney, for his part, should be all but ruled out: he is widely considered to have performed poorly during an international meet-and-greet tour in September, while the Republican Party as a whole hasn't exactly helped its image, with rank-and-file members proffering some appalling views on women's health rights recently.

However, Romney has moved to distance himself from his party's more radical stances, and is thought to have delivered a convincing performance in the first debate in particular. He has also proved particularly adept at glossing over the inconsistencies present in some of his statements, but how do the two candidates vying for the most powerful political office in the free world stand up in regards to policies that affect technology?

Barack Obama

Education and research

Mr Obama's proposals include doubling education funding across the science, technology, engineering, and maths spectrum (STEM). He is also interested in making the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit permanent to provide relief for America's R&D efforts, while space exploration development initiatives look especially ambitious: the Obama platform says the ultimate aim is to plant humans on Mars by the 2030s.

Connectivity

Whilst in office, Mr Obama launched the National Broadband Plan, with a stated goal of attaining 90 per cent broadband adoption across America by 2020. To this end, his administration has developed specific funding programmes targeted at helping deployment in rural areas and amongst low-income citizens. However, he has so far failed to meet some of the interim goals of this project.

Internet freedom & security

Advocates of digital liberty may or may not have a friend in Mr Obama: whilst in office, he offered low-level opposition to both SOPA and PIPA, but also helped to enable the formation of the Domestic Communications Assistance Center, a shadowy specialist electronic surveillance unit with the potential power to spy on Skype conversations and other Internet and wireless communications.

With regards to cybersecurity, the picture is clearer: Mr Obama is reasonably hawkish and has been at constant pains during his tenure to highlight the increasing dangers posed to US national security and its interests by digital attacks. Indeed, convincing evidence exists pointing to the hand of the Obama administration in the Stuxnet attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, which - if accurate - would mean the Democratic incumbent was an advocate of pre-emptive cyber strikes. In addition, drone operations in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan have become commonplace during Obama's term in office,

Green tech

When the current mobile and wireless boom eventually subsides, green tech is likely to be the world's next great technology explosion. Obama is a fairly clear choice for environmentally-minded types, aggressively plowing funds into a range of alternative energy projects during his term in office. In all, some $90 billion (£56.3bn) into solar and wind power projects, as well as improving America's national electricity grid. He also backs the use of incentives to help spur on adoption of renewable energy.

China

A continuation of the Obama administration is likely to be beneficial for America's economic relationship with China – a relationship that the technology world needs to continue to develop along positive and progressive lines. Although occasionally guilty of macho posturing, Mr Obama is a skilled diplomat who tends to shine on the world stage. He is seen by many as the preferable President in terms of international relations.

Mitt Romney

Education and research

Mr Romney's education policies have been decidedly vague during his 2012 presidential campaign. He has been quick to criticise the current state of American education - a popular past-time of political challengers - without necessarily offering an alternative blueprint. When governor of Massachusetts, Romney created special scholarships for high-scoring STEM students, and also introduced a requirement that students pass a science exam before obtaining their high school diploma.

As a Republican, Mr Romney opposes government interference in the market, and would likely cut the federal R&D budget via a decrease in discretionary spending. He supports an extension of the current Tax Credit scheme, and maintains an interest in the United States' space programme, though he has stated he would not increase its budget.

Connectivity

A Romney administration would likely scale back the government's role in managing and regulating the telecoms sector, having gone on record as saying it is not the business of the political system to pick winners and losers. As such, a Republican platform would generally favour market-based solutions to increase broadband access, including spectrum auctions and public-private partnerships.

Internet freedom and security

Like Mr Obama, Mitt Romney voiced subdued opposition to SOPA, saying that the law as written was "far too intrusive [and] far too expansive." Instead, he has proposed the creation of narrowly defined anti-piracy measures within existing legal frameworks. Likewise, there is little difference between the Democrats and the Republicans when it comes to cybersecurity, with both parties and their candidates frequently opining on the potential severity of digital threats to the United States. Mr Romney would be a potentially even more pro-active commander-in-chief, though, proffering that his opponent has been overly reliant on defensive infrastructure rather than engaging an "active defence" - obvious code for pre-emptive strikes. Mr Romney also shares Mr Obama's enthusiasm for drone-based military technology.

Green tech

Mr Romney does not boast the most progressive attitudes towards the environment, calling nuclear power a "win-win" solution that offers the best opportunity to reduce greenhouse gasses. He would eliminate some of Mr Obama's alternative energy incentives, opposes fuel efficiency standards, and has criticised his opponent's clean energy investments. The Republican candidate says he supports North American energy independence and would invest a further $16 billion (£10bn) in energy research, though sceptics no doubt assume this amounts simply to more drilling in Canada and the Gulf.

China

A Republican administration is likely to be more openly confrontation when it comes to China, a strategy that may get Mr Romney a few fist bumps at a locals' bar in Ohio, but isn't in the interests of the international community – let alone the technology world - in any way. He has fiercely criticised Mr Obama's handling of alleged Chinese trade violations, and advocates the establishment of a new, WTO-like body to oversee the protection of intellectual property.

Opinion

There's no doubt that this is an exceedingly tight race – not since Clinton vs Dole in 1996 has there been a one-sided US presidential election – and that the world is watching, waiting, and of course tweeting prolifically as America goes to the polls today. Mr Romney is far from a no-hoper and some aspects of an administration led by him could be beneficial for the technology sector. In particular, the Republican platform's generally hands-off market regulation strategy can be a benefit for larger enterprises, and make no mistake - tech is all about big business.

However, technology is also about the future, and there should be little doubt that Mr Obama is the more forward-thinking politician, and is a particularly preferable candidate when it comes to green tech and international relations. His detractors will no doubt point to a term in office that was marginally effective at best, but more realistic types appreciate that US presidents tend to get a lot more accomplished in their second term, if they earn it. Why? With no prospect of re-election, the burden of playing it safe and potentially engaging in pre-emptive damage limitation (again with the newspeak) is largely eradicated.

In a practical sense, this means that all those great sounding promises Mr Obama made as part of his awe-inspiring 2008 campaign stand a better chance of coming true - at least in part - if he is able to continue his White House residency. But it's definitely squeaky bum time. American voters are notoriously fickle types and, while Mr Romney is unlikely to be the total calamity some of the more rabid liberal commentators predict, let's hope our cousins across the pond get this one right. With regards to technology initiatives and beyond, Barack Obama deserves a second term in office.