2016 Presidential Primary Candidates: Issues and Positions

BySara Tenenbaum WLS logo
Thursday, February 4, 2016

After months of campaigning, the results of the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1 have distilled the 2016 presidential race into a competition between five candidates: Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Here are the candidates' positions on the 2016 election's topline issues, and where they agree and diverge.

Democrats: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

AP Photos/Patrick Semansky, J. David Ake

Economy and Taxes

Same: Clinton and Sanders propose raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and using the revenue for investments in infrastructure, education, clean energy, small business and healthcare. Both favor extensive Wall Street reforms and strengthening of federal regulations on Wall Street practices and investments. Both favor of overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited independent spending by corporations in elections, and are committed to comprehensive campaign finance reform and legislation requiring outside groups to publicly disclose spending.

Sanders supports taxes on Wall Street speculators and a progressive estate tax on the wealthiest 0.3 percent of Americans, promises to break up financial institutions that are "too big to fail" and wants to eliminate Super PACs.

Clinton is focused on the "shadow banking" system, which includes hedge funds, investment banks and other non-bank financial companies, and promises to increase transparency and reduce volatility, and is promoting an SEC rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose political spending to shareholders.


Same: Both support strengthening unions and collective bargaining rights. Both also support raising the minimum wage, but using different strategies.

Sanders promises to raise the minimum to $15 by 2020.

Clinton promises to raise the minimum wage to $12 nationally and encourage states and localities to raise their minimum wages to $15 individually while also expanding overtime rules.


Same: Both support universal pre-k, kindergarten and universal childcare. Both plan to use taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street to pay for college tuition reforms.

Clinton proposes college tuition and debt reform through an expansion of Pell Grants, free community college tuition, increasing federal grants and cutting college loan interest rates.

Sanders calls for universal free tuition for all public colleges and universities, proposes cutting the federal loan interest rate by almost half, allowing retroactive student loan refinancing to lower interest levels and creating need-based financial aid and work study for debt-free college.

Defense and Terrorism

Same: Both broadly prioritize diplomacy over military intervention, and call for strengthening the Iran Nuclear Deal. Both favor targeting the root causes of radicalization in the Middle East as a way of fighting ISIS and terrorism.

Sanders favors the two state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, promises to close Guantanamo Bay and abolish torture. He favors limited military engagement.

Clinton also advocates increased accountability and more stringent rules for China and diplomatic actions and sanctions to contain and deter Russian aggression.


Same: Both candidates support strengthening and expanding background checks, closing mental health loopholes and closing gun sales loopholes. Both support the ban of high-capacity magazine and assault-style weapons.

Clinton has an F rating, wants to revoke licenses of bad actor gun dealers, repeal gun manufacturer and dealer immunity laws, pass legislation preventing domestic abusers from owning guns and make straw purchases illegal.

Sanders has a D- rating from the NRA, favors a state-by-state approach to gun control and has taken more moderate positions in the past.


Same: Both support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, oppose family detention and call for the closure of all private detention centers. Both support undocumented families having access to healthcare through the ACA. Both favor welcoming Syrian refugees.

Clinton has vowed to defend President Obama's executive actions on immigration, including deportation relief for DREAMers and parents of Americans or lawful residents and promises to extend those actions to further sympathetic cases.

Sanders is calling for a modernization of border defense and protection of border communities.


Same: Both support universal health care in America.

Clinton wants to expand the Affordable Care Act, crack down on prescription drug prices and increase drug company accountability. She advocates for the protection and expansion of women's health care, including reproductive health care and abortion. She also wants to broaden the scope of ACA providers to meet the needs of rural Americans, including telehealth reimbursement, streamline licensing of telemedicine and expanding services that qualify for reimbursement.

Sanders wants a single payer universal healthcare system dubbed "Medicare for All" and has said the ACA does not go far enough in terms of providing healthcare. Sanders' proposal calls for a tax increase across all tax brackets, though Sanders said in the last CNN debate that the $1,000 in projected increased taxes will be offset by $5,000 in healthcare savings per year. He plans to pay for his healthcare proposal with a 6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid for by employers, a 2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households and the tax revenue from increased taxes on the wealthy, capital gains, dividends and estates.

Social Policy

Same: Both support paid leave from work, comprehensive criminal justice reform and share priorities Including body cameras, national guidelines on use of force, ending private prisons and reforming or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, and both support Planned Parenthood and promise to uphold and defend Roe v. Wade.

Clinton supports 12 weeks of paid family leave for both mother and father, 12 weeks of paid leave to care for ill family members, and 12 weeks of paid medical leave to recovery from serious illness or injury. She supports legislation to end racial profiling, collection and reporting of national data on police forces, focus on violent crime over non-violent drug offenses and executive action to "Ban the Box" to ease inmate reentry to the workforce.

Sanders supports at least 12 weeks of paid family leave, paid medical leave, two weeks of paid vacation and seven paid sick days. He promises to demilitarize police, invest in community policing, increase diversity in police forces, and crack down on hate groups.

Further Information

Hillary Clinton official campaign website

Bernie Sanders official campaign website

Republicans: Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz

Economy and Taxes

Same: All three are in favor of overhauling the U.S. tax system. All three oppose estate taxes.

Rubio supports three tax brackets at 15, 25 and 35 percent, and 25 percent tax rate for businesses of all sizes. He wants to end capital gains and dividend taxes.

Trump advocates four tax brackets: 0, 10, 20 and 25 percent, and 15 percent tax rate for businesses of all sizes.

Cruz promises his "Cruz Simple Flat Tax" which would apply a 10 percent tax to all people earning more than $36,000. Cruz also promises to eliminate the IRS. In his "Five for Freedom" plan, Cruz advocates eliminating the IRS, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Same: Cruz and Rubio both promise to crack down on unions and reform collective bargaining rights. Both candidates promise to promote pro-business reforms.

Trump has not articulated official labor policy positions outside of his immigration platform promoting American workers over workers hired from overseas. In debates, he says he does not support raising the minimum wage.


Cruz plans to eliminate the Department of Education.

Rubio supports expansion of the charter school system and opposes Common Core.

Trump has not released official education opinions, but said in debates he would cut the Department of Education and Common Core.

Defense and Terrorism

Same: All three candidates have declared their intention to defeat ISIS and "radical Islam." All oppose the Iran Nuclear Deal and support direct U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

Cruz and Rubio both call for rebuilding and modernizing the American military.

Trump calls for reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and modernization of veterans' services, including increased funding for veteran mental healthcare and is the only Republican candidate to explicitly call for modernization efforts to support female veterans.


Same: All three candidates agree on overturning gun and magazine bans, allowing guns on military bases and recruitment centers, lifting gun bans in Washington D.C. and nationwide concealed carry permits.

Cruz and Rubio both have "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association and Cruz won an NRA award in 2010. Both oppose any expansion in background checks and agree that gun manufacturers and dealers should be subject to less regulation and monitoring.

Trump has not been officially graded by the NRA, but describes himself as a lifelong NRA member with a concealed carry permit for his weapons. He supports enforcing and fixing background checks as they exist now and increasing mental health services.


Same: All three candidates are against immigration reform and support tight border control measures including building a wall on the Mexican border, though Donald Trump is the only candidate promising to make Mexico pay for the wall. They are all against sanctuary cities and promise to cut their federal funding as well as increase deportations. All three candidates call for a national e-verify system and an end to birthright citizenship.

Cruz promises to triple U.S.-Mexico border patrol agents and increase aerial border surveillance.

Trump promises to triple ICE agents and all three candidates promise to crack down on undocumented immigrant re-entry as well as criminal penalties for re-entry. He also wants to require American businesses to hire Americans first, advocating for a pause in green cards to promote domestic hiring.


Same: All promise to repeal Obamacare upon taking office.

Neither Cruz nor Trump have issues sections specifically addressing healthcare on their campaign websites.

Rubio promises to "make Medicare solvent" and loosen federal oversight and regulation of Medicare and Medicaid in states.

Social Policy

Cruz and Rubio support overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal in America, as well as defunding Planned Parenthood. Both promise to open a federal investigation of Planned Parenthood. Both are against same sex marriage.

Rubio proposes using anti-poverty funding for programs promoting traditional marriage.

Cruz has authored legislation and a constitutional amendment in the Senate to "prevent federal courts from further interfering with any state's authority to define marriage" and has promised to "instruct the Department of Justice, the IRS, and every other federal agency that the persecution of religious liberty ends today."

Trump has expressed support for religious freedom, police officers and a "culture of life" in public speeches and debates, but has not officially formed issues platforms or policy proposals.

Further Information

Marco Rubio official campaign website

Ted Cruz official campaign website

Donald Trump official campaign website