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New UMD Study Highlights The Politics of Photos

November 2, 2012

David Ottalini 301-405-4076 -

Major UMD Study Uses Pinterest to Evaluate the Photo Coverage of the 2012 General Election and GOP Primaries

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - In an election all about demographics, the photos of the campaign foretold the ultimate story. PrezPix - a new study from the University of Maryland that evaluated 8,780 photographs published by 21 major American news outlets over four months of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign.

Using photos pinned to the social media outlet Pinterest, PrezPix documented just how broad a base President Obama attracted.   Repeatedly the photos showed Obama talking to and wading among groups of diverse supporters - college students, women, factory workers, Latinos, African Americans - all images that reinforced his position as the president of the "47 percent" and more.

The PrezPix study also documented how positively the media pictured Pres. Obama and his wife. In an election where women, minority and youth voters played the deciding roles, the photos of Obama and his wife specifically addressed all three of those core demographics.  Again and again the photos pinned to Pinterest showed the couple as friends, as intimates, as having fun - all powerfully subliminal messages about the character of the president.

By contrast the photos of Gov. Romney and his wife showed the couple as more formal, more businesslike, more respectful - positive traits, but not adding substantively to what voters saw of just Romney himself.


During the presidential campaign, the 18 news outlets in the fall phase of the PrezPix study published more photos of Romney than of Obama.  In September and October 2012, researchers evaluated a total of 5,546 photographs of Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney during the presidential campaign: 2,933 photographs of Romney and 2613 photographs of Obama.

But more coverage of Romney did not necessarily mean more "positive" coverage:  The 18 news outlets, taken as a whole, published proportionately more "positive" photos of Obama in September, two weeks before the first debate.  Obama was pictured smiling more often, engaged with the public more often, in more diverse settings, with more diverse audiences.

But by October and the weeks of the first two presidential debates, the coverage no longer so dramatically favored Obama - and in most cases the tone of the coverage of the two men was roughly on par. Why the shift?

The presidential debates - and the reactions and spin that followed each one - dominated the visual coverage of the October campaign.  Literally.  News outlets used split-screen photos or pictures of the two men on the debate stage together for more than half the photographic coverage of the debate weeks - and they often appeared to select those photos precisely to give "mirror" (or more equal) portraits of the two men.

See the PrezPix website for more highlights, including findings about the photographic coverage of the spring GOP primaries.


The PrezPix study is believed to be the largest academic research project to date to use the Pinterest platform to aggregate and evaluate news photos. Many news outlets have a presence on Pinterest, but because of its majority female audience, most news media use Pinterest only to post style and living photos. But as Moeller observed, "Increasingly photos are the way that online news consumers access news of all kinds. Everyone is aware that photos have a message, but until now very little has been done to systematically consider what is being said with them."

"Watchdog sites for political ads and campaign contributions exist," she continued, "but until Pinterest, it has been too difficult to evaluate photos, especially in anything approaching real time. What is especially valuable for researchers is the transparency of Pinterest. Pinned photographs link back to their original locations. In our case that means that viewers can evaluate the images we've pinned to see for themselves on one Pinterest board how any given news outlet has pictured a particular candidate. In an era of open data, when the voting public increasing wants and needs information to be online, searchable and mashable, Pinterest is an unmatched research tool."




The PrezPix study was led by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland, College Park; researchers included students at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. The research team analyzed the photo coverage of 21 news outlets. For the fall general election three of the original 18 news outlets (the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dallas Morning News and were dropped, so that three news outlets from swing states and states hosting the presidential debates (the Cleveland Post Dispatch, the Denver Post and the Miami Herald) could be added to the list. The news outlets in both the spring and fall phases of the study were:

ABC News Daily Beast New York Times
Bloomberg Fox News NPR
CBS News Huffington Post Politico
Christian Science Monitor Los Angeles Times USA Today
CNN NBC News Washington Post


ICMPA's PrezPix study is available online at
The Pinterest boards collecting the almost 9,000 images evaluated is at

National Weather and Climate Prediction Center Opens at UMD

October 19, 2012

Lee Tune, 301 405 4679 or

  NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in UMD's M Square research park.
Image Credit: John T. Consoli/University of Maryland

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The eye of weather and climate prediction for the nation is now a centerpiece of M Square, the University of Maryland Research Park. This week, the federal government officially opened the long-awaited Center for Weather and Climate Prediction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The new center brings together more than 800 NOAA employees from several different outdated buildings and puts them in an innovative, state-of-the-art facility designed by a team of architects led by University of Maryland alum Roger Schwabacher M.A. Arch. '99.

"We at the University of Maryland are thrilled to have [NOAA] as a key partner in our M Square Research Park," said University President Wallace Loh, speaking at the opening ceremonies. "And for the first time we will have right here in this region, I believe, the greatest concentration of earth, climate and weather scientists in the world."

The new NOAA center provides the nation with a broad range of environmental services - from predicting the hurricane season and El Niño/La Niña to forecasting ocean currents and large-scale rain and snow storms. Billions of earth observations from around the world flow through environmental models, developed and managed in the new building, that support the nation's weather forecasts.

The center's new building is deliberately next door UMD's Earth Systems Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) and Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI) -- leading centers on earth science, climate change and energy use. NOAA and the University of Maryland have established a collaborative agreement designed to maximize the enhanced academic and research opportunities made possible by the new center and its location adjacent to campus.

"NOAA depends on the research community and we are excited about the partnership with the University of Maryland," said Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA's National Weather Service.

A NOAA news release says the agency is developing and expanding programs for the new center to increase scientific collaboration between its researchers and forecasters and University of Maryland faculty and students, as well as other scientists across the nation and abroad. "A new partnership with the University of Maryland will inspire the next generation of earth scientists by pairing undergraduates in the department of atmospheric and oceanic science with researchers at the center to earn federal requirements to become certified meteorologists and oceanographers," NOAA says.

About 25 UMD undergraduates are enrolled in the university's new atmospheric and oceanic sciences major that will offer internships and research opportunities through NOAA's center. The new NOAA center is "terrific for recruiting students," says research scientist Jeffry Stehr, who is associate director for professional masters & undergraduate programs in the department of atmospheric & oceanic science.

UMD alum Schwabacher led the design of the energy-efficient building, which features a soaring atrium, a green roof and rainwater bio-retention. Its work environment is designed to encourage scientific interaction by co-locating scientists from across disciplines and creating an open concept design to promote greater communication and collaboration.

"This facility is an important investment in our nation's future," said Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. "It's a place where government, academia and others can come together to make new discoveries, drive innovation, and uncover new ways to give our citizens and businesses the information they need to make smart decisions, whether that's deciding how to ship their products to customers or just taking care of day-to-day tasks."

UMD Partnering to Understand and Respond to Changes in Climate and Weather

Over the past 15 years, the university has built on its long tradition of excellence in atmospheric, climate, biological, and earth science to develop major new partnerships with NOAA, NASA and other federal agencies in the areas of earth science, remote imaging, climate change and energy research. In addition to the latest NOAA partnership, UMD collaborations and initiatives include leading the NOAA-supported Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS); the long-standing cooperative agreement between UMDs Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center; the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the university and the Department of Energy; and a collaborative UMD initiative called Climate Information: Responding to User Needs (CIRUN).

About M Square

M Square is a public-private partnership between Corporate Office Properties Trust and the University of Maryland (UMD). Maryland's largest research park, when fully built out, will encompass two million square feet and employ an estimated 6,500 people. The park's location serves to link physically and programmatically university researchers, students and staff with federal laboratories and private sector companies. Key technology clusters at the park include: environmental and earth sciences (NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, Joint Global Change Research Institute, and Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center); food safety and agriculture policy (USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, UMD/FDA Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition); and language and national security (Center for Advanced Study of Language, National Foreign Language Center, Raytheon, and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity).

New NIH Grant to Advance Joint UMD & UMB Brain Surgery Robot Development

October 18, 2012

Crystal Brown - UMD - 301-405-4618;



MPowering the State Logo

ADELPHI, Md - A research team from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) have been awarded a new $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue developing a small robot that could one day be a huge aid to neurosurgeons in removing difficult-to-reach brain tumors. This NIH grant is one of the first awarded to a joint UMB and UMD research project under the collaboration between these two research powerhouses that is known as University of Maryland: MPowering the State.

Team members Jaydev P. Desai, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UMD, and Rao Gullapalli, MD, associate professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine, and J. Marc Simard, MD, professor of neurosurgery, both at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have developed their "Minimally Invasive Neurosurgical Intracranial Robot" (MINIR) prototype over a number of years and demonstrated its feasibility, supported in part by a previous NIH grant. The team has evaluated the device under continuous magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). According to the researchers, work done on the previous NIH grant helped to uncover next level challenges that are the basis of this new NIH project.

The NIH grant will enable the team to develop MINIR-II, a fully MRI-compatible robot and demonstrate its safety and effectiveness. To accomplish this, MINIR-II will need to be under the direct control of the physician, with targeting information obtained exclusively from real-time MRI that uses active targeting methods with sensors embedded within MINIR-II.

"This technology has the potential to revolutionize the treatment and management of patients with difficult to reach intracranial tumors and to have a direct impact on improving their quality of life," says Dr. Desai. "This work is a result of exceptional collaboration over the years, between our two extraordinary institutions."

Brain tumors are among the most feared complications of cancer, occurring in 20 to 40 percent of adult cancer patients. Despite numerous advances in treatment, the prognosis for these patients is poor, with a median survival of 4-8 months. Whether a primary (intrinsic) malignancy, or a secondary (metastatic) malignancy, involvement of the brain in a cancer patient is devastating, because it threatens the very personality and identity of the individual, and is invariably the most likely of all complications to directly and severely affect the quality of life. Currently, the optimal treatment is to remove the tumor(s) through primary surgical resection, then follow with additional therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, in many patients the location of the brain tumor makes it too difficult to remove through primary surgical resection. This is especially true for tumors deeply embedded in the brain that may be difficult to access using conventional neurosurgical techniques. The poor general health of the patient can further complicate the matter.

A fully MRI-compatible MINIR could one day enable neurosurgeons to reach such difficult tumors and greatly improve outcomes for these patients. Furthermore, image-guided robotic surgery avoids the complications associated with brain shifts associated with conventional tumor resections, as the target tumor may move during surgery but will always remain within sight through the exquisite contrast available from real-time MRI.

An early version of MINIR won the 2007 University of Maryland, College Park Invention of the Year award in the Physical Science Category.

The Great Fire of 1912: The Blaze That Built Maryland

October 18, 2012

David Ottalini, 301-405-4076 or

MAC Before the Great Fire of 1912

By Lauren Brown

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The buildings were still smoldering as day broke on Nov. 30, 1912. Exhausted cadets stood among the scattered effects salvaged the night before: damaged trunks, a charred bureau or chair, a basket of papers. They and their dinner-dance dates, still wearing party dresses stained and reeking of smoke, stared at the ruins before them.

The Barracks and the Administration Building— the heart of the Maryland Agricultural College—had housed all 265 cadets as well as the mess halls, all the offices and records, and the departments of languages and mathematics. Now they were an unrecognizable, blackened heap of brick and stone.

The inexplicable catastrophe might easily have shuttered the little college on the hill. Instead, MAC emerged from the ashes of the Great Fire to reshape its mission, ownership, physical appearance and orientation, and enrollment—its entire identity. It rallied determined students, faculty, alumni and state leaders to lay the groundwork for a far more ambitious institution, one that became the University of Maryland.

TerpVision 7: The Great Fire of November 29, 1912 

Listen to the oral history of Ken Grace - a student at Maryland Agricultural College at the time of the Great Fire. Interview by Art Brodsky on November 21, 1973.


Read the Complete Terp Magazine Feature about The Great Fire of 1912
See the University Archives Feature on the Great Fire that includes photos, oral histories and more.

UMD's Future of Information Alliance Receives $1 Million

September 7, 2012

David Ottalini, 301 405 4076 or

COLLEGE PARK, Md -  The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation has awarded $1 million to the Future of Information Alliance (FIA) at the University of Maryland. Launched in 2011, the Alliance reaches across disciplines in exploring key information-related challenges and opportunities. The Deutsch Foundation funds will be used over the next three years to expand the Alliance's "Visiting Future-ist" program and to create a new seed-grant competition for students and their faculty mentors.

"This generous support will help us to bring more of the world's leading innovators and researchers into important conversations about the future of information, across campus and beyond," says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. "It will also help our students take part in the search for creative solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time."

The seed-grant program is designed to spur innovation and research by multidisciplinary teams of students, under faculty mentorship. Each group will collaborate with one of the FIA's 10 Founding Partners, whose members include the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Geographic Society, the Newseum, Sesame Workshop, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. National Park Service, the Barrie School, NPR-affiliate station WAMU 88.5, and the Office of the Governor of Maryland.

Details of the seed grant program will be announced on the FIA website.  Students in each of four winning teams will be designated as Deutsch-FIA Student Fellows and will receive stipends for work on their projects. Faculty mentors will also receive stipends and will be designated Deutsch-FIA Faculty Fellows.

The FIA launched its "Visiting Future-ist" program in November 2011 with a week of programs on campus. Leading innovators from Google, Twitter and Microsoft spent the week talking about their own work and brainstorming with hundreds of students, faculty and staff.  One of last year's Visiting Future-ists, Dr. Dan Russell,  who is known as Google's Director of User Happiness, will return to campus several times this year as the FIA's first" Future-ist in Residence." Google is an FIA Corporate Affiliate.

The Deutsch funds will help expand the Visiting Future-ist program, with three events to be held each year.  The first of these, on Nov. 12, will focus on transforming education through the future of information.  This event will explore how universities are experimenting with new forms of online education that reach beyond campuses to potentially millions of participants worldwide. The second Visiting Future-ist event, on Feb. 4, 2013, will explore the uses of crowdsourcing for creativity and human potential.  The third event, on May 6 will focus on the challenges and opportunities in accessing and using big data to better support government services, improve healthcare information, and more.

"The Future of Information Alliance and its transdisciplinary focus offer students and faculty the opportunity to engage in transformative research and education," says UMD's Vice President for Research and Chief Research Officer Dr. Patrick O'Shea."Through its important and visionary contribution, the Deutsch Foundation has helped make this new initiative possible."

The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, based in Baltimore, supports innovations in science and technology, investment in education, creative placemaking and the arts community in Baltimore, and projects that enhance the well-being of others. The Deutsch Foundation is already established as an important supporter of innovation at the University of Maryland.  One current Deutsch Foundation program supports graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the Clark School of Engineering working on a multidisciplinary program in biofabrication, investigating and developing nano-scale technologies for detection and treatment of disease .

The Future of Information Alliance was created to serve as a catalyst for dialogue across disciplines and to promote research on issues related to the evolving role of information in our lives. By identifying shared challenges and encouraging innovative solutions, the Future of Information Alliance seeks to facilitate a future in which information in all its forms can be an effective resource for all. The Future of Information Alliance is co-directed by Professor Allison Druin of Maryland's iSchool and Associate Professor Ira Chinoy of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. The FIA operates under the auspices of the Office of the Vice President for Research and is supported by the deans of all colleges and schools across campus as well as a broad-based campus advisory board.


Campaign Ad Psychology and Financing 2012: UMD 'Election Dissection' Sept. 19

September 7, 2012

Laura Ours, 301-405-5722 or

Former Congressman, Faculty Experts on Campaign Financing and the Psychology Behind Election Ads


'Election Dissection' - an interactive event featuring a keynote by former Congressman Dennis Cardoza and UMD Government and Politics faculty experts - will help mark Constitution Day. The UMD event will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 19. The event is free and open to the public.

Key topics will include the psychology behind election ads and what constitutional issues surrounding campaign financing. Audience members will be invited to weigh in on the topics discussed by using their smart phones.

Format: After welcoming remarks from College of Behavioral and Social Sciences Dean John Townshend, Congressman Cardoza will speak on the history and significance of Constitution Day, and the importance of voting and civic engagement. Three faculty members will then make individual presentations, including PowerPoint and audience involvement via interactive smart phone technology. A brief Q&A session will follow the final faculty presentation.

The event is sponsored by the UMD College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, the Department of Government and Politics and the UMD Center for American Politics and Citizenship.


Dennis Cardoza, Former U.S. Congressman, Managing Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP (keynote speaker and emcee);
Paul S. Herrnson, director of UMD's Center for American Politics and Citizenship, professor of government and politics, and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at the University of Maryland (presenter);
Stella Rouse, assistant professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and a research fellow at UMD's Center for American Politics and Citizenship;
Antoine Banks, assistant professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and a research fellow at UMD's Center for American Politics and Citizenship;
Philip Resnik, professor with joint appointments in linguistics and the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland, and the developer of new technology in the emerging field "computational political science," who is responsible for the technology that will allow the audience to participate with their smart phones at the event.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.


Student Union, Grand Ballroom
University of Maryland, College Park, 20742


Media are asked to RSVP and check in at the event.
Contact: Laura Ours, 301-405-5722 or


New University Agreement Offers Downloads of Popular Microsoft® Products

September 7, 2012

Phyllis Dickerson Johnson, 301-405-4491 or

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Recognizing that there are strategic advantages for a university to provide students with the latest software without them having to spend money for individual upgrades, the University of Maryland recently added new components to a university agreement that allows students to download popular Microsoft® software for educational and personal use at no additional charge.

Late this summer, the following Microsoft products became available for student download: Office 2010 Professional (for Windows), Office 2011 Standard (for Macintosh), and Windows 7 Operating System Upgrade 32bit/64bit Ultimate. Windows 8 is slated to be available for student download after its release.

The products are available through a new agreement between the university and Microsoft managed by the Division of Information Technology. The expanded agreement also makes several popular products, including Microsoft Office and Windows 7 upgrades, available to university faculty and staff for their personal computers at no cost for Work at Home use and makes available the following enterprise server products for faculty and staff: Exchange, Forefront, Lync, SharePoint, System Center, and Windows. University departments, colleges, and schools can get these products at no cost on DVD from the Division of IT's Software Licensing.

Strategically, there are many advantages to providing needed software tools in the most effective ways possible to faculty, staff, and students through licensing software broadly for the entire university, said Brian D. Voss, Maryland's Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer. Voss continued: Such licenses encourage use of legal software installations; promote the use of modernized and up-to-date tools; improve the security and integrity of the university's technical environment; save students, faculty, staff, and university groups out-of-pocket costs; and, through version standardization, lead to more efficient and effective support services.

The strategy of centrally providing modern software to the university originates from the IT strategic planning process that is underway at the University of Maryland - supporting an "IT Abundance" model that gives the university community the widest possible array of useful technology tools while doing so in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

This strategy is one broadly embraced by major universities nationally; it has proven to be successful in improving IT environments and allowing institutions to get the most value possible from their software expenditures, said Voss, who has previously deployed similar initiatives at other higher education institutions.

University of Maryland students, faculty, and staff have already downloaded several thousand Microsoft products since the launch last week, and many more can visit to get started.

About the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. Ranked No. 18 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report, it has 32 academic programs in the U.S News Top 10 and 73 in the Top 25. The Institute of Higher Education (Jiao Tong University, Shanghai), which ranks the world's top universities based on research, puts Maryland at No. 38 in the world and No. 13 among U.S. public universities. The university has produced six Nobel laureates, seven Pulitzer Prize winners, more than 40 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. The university is recognized for its diversity, with underrepresented students comprising one-third of the student population. For more information about the University of Maryland, visit

Phyllis Dickerson Johnson
Director of Communications and Marketing 
Division of Information Technology 
University of Maryland


UMD Ranks 4th For Aspiring Entrepreneurs

September 7, 2012

David Ottalini, 301 405 4076 or

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland ranks fourth in the nation for aspiring entrepreneurs. The new student-based ranking for 2013 comes from - an online college guide that lets college students continuously update information about their schools. The rankings were featured in the Tuesday, September 4 edition of the Huffington Post. The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazinehave also recognized the University of Maryland as a leading school for entrepreneurially-minded students.

The Unigo ranking report focuses on programs offered by the Robert H. Smith School of Business - mentioning the Dingman Center and it's "Pitch Dingman" program that lets anyone pitch business ideas every Friday to their "Entrepreneurs in Residence." Twice yearly, students have the opportunity to compete for upwards of three thousand dollars in seed money.

Dingman and other programs at the Smith School are just part of a growing focus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the College Park campus - programs that are firmly incorporated in the strategic goals of University President Wallace Loh.

  • Already, the University of Maryland's leadership has proven crucial as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named the state#1 in the nation for entrepreneurship and innovation this past June while also ranking the state #1 in academic research and development and #3 in STEM jobs in the concentration of high-tech business locations;

UMD continues to expand its entrepreneurial competitions allowing students to test their mettle:

  • Starting March 30, 2012 and running throughout the entire month of April, 2012, the university celebrated 30 Days of EnTERPpreneurship devoted to a number of events focused on innovation, ingenuity and ideas. A highlight was the Cupid's Cup Competition where students and alumni who owned their own businesses competed for a $2500 prize as well as the Do Good Challenge with actor Kevin Bacon as host.

In addition to its growing entrepreneurship education efforts, the University is launching additional programs to cultivate more tech commercialization. Some examples include: 

  • Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (MTech) offers hundreds of hours of entrepreneur education - see the entire list online including the Hinman CEO program and Hillman Entrepreneur's Program. 
  • The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship (as mentioned above in relation to the Unigo rankings) connects startups from regional tech councils, incubators and state-funded institutions with a network of more than 40 active, accredited angel investors and venture capitalists for early-stage capital. The Center also provides MBA and undergraduate students at the Smith School with practical experiences and opportunities to pitch their business ideas, obtain feedback from experienced entrepreneurs-in-residence and access funding.
  • The Maryland Small Business Development Center - a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration and UMD.
  • Faculty researchers at the University of Maryland and other state universities also have new incentives to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship activities. The University System of Maryland Board of Regents recently approved a new policy to formally give credit in tenure and promotion decisions for faculty efforts and activities that result in the generation and application of intellectual property through technology transfer. 


National Deficit Outlook Unchanged Under Obama: UMD Policy Analysis

September 5, 2012

Jennifer Talhelm, 301-405-4390 or

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - From a public policy point of view, the national debt accumulation since President Obama took office is largely a result of policies put in place prior to his inauguration, says a new analysis by University of Maryland expert Philip Joyce. He adds that Obama's policies will make little impact in the debt over the next decade.

"The best that can be said about presidential fiscal policies thus far is that they would slow the bleeding, but they neither would stop it nor would they do much to heal the patient," Joyce says.

The size of the debt has been one of the biggest issues of the presidential campaign, with Republicans arguing that the President has allowed the debt to rise out of control and Obama saying that he inherited the policies that led to an increase in debt and deficits.

Joyce's analysis his the second Election Policy Fact Check, a new series by the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. The ongoing series examines the key policy issues of the presidential campaign. Joyce, a professor of management, finance and leadership, served in the Congressional Budget Office and the Illinois Bureau of the Budget and is the author of the book, The Congressional Budget Office: Honest Numbers, Power, and Policy Making

According to Joyce's analysis:

  • It's true that deficits and debt are much higher now than they were in 2009 when Obama took office. In fact, the debt accumulated far faster than the Congressional Budget Office's initial calculations. Almost $6 trillion was added to the debt in four years - something the CBO estimated would take a decade.
  • The growth of the debt is predominantly due to the continuation of many policies that predated the administration, which were, for the most part, out of Obama's control. But Obama's policies did contribute to the deficits and debt. And, while the president did appoint a deficit commission, and this commission came up with a bold reduction plan, Obama chose not to embrace its report, even though it would have given him political cover to come up with a major debt-reduction initiative.

Joyce says the main question in the context of the presidential election is whether a second Obama term would represent more of the same, or whether we could expect a bold, long-term proposal to finally put the country on a path to a more responsible fiscal policy.

"There seem to be few clues in the campaign so far that would point us to an answer to that question," Joyce says. "The public deserves to know how both candidates' plans to deal with the short-term, and also the long-term, budgetary problems faced by the country."

Ten Facts about Obama's Record on Deficits and Debt

1. Deficits and debt are much higher now than they were when President Obama took office. In 2009, when President Obama was inaugurated, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the debt held by the public in 2008 (the most recently completed fiscal year) was $5.8 trillion, or just over 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The deficit for that year was $455 billion. The debt at the conclusion of fiscal year 2012 (September 2012), is projected by the CBO to be $11.3 trillion, or 73 percent of GDP, with an annual deficit for that year of $1.1 trillion.

2. The increase in deficits and debt were not caused by President Obama, but his policies did contribute to it. In particular, decisions to enact the economic stimulus, however necessary, did increase deficits in the short term, to the tune of $833 billion over 10 years. Decisions to enact a payroll tax holiday, similarly, added to the debt. Most of the debt increase, however, resulted from factors outside of the president's immediate control, including the depressing of revenues and increases in spending built into the budget resulting from the stubborn recession, the continued need to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continued revenue reductions from the Bush-era tax cuts.

3. In 2009, deficits and debt were projected to more than double over 10 years, assuming the continuation of current policies. In January 2009, CBO projected, assuming the Bush tax cuts were extended and other policies were continued, that more than $6 trillion would have been added to the debt over 10 years. While CBO did not give a precise estimate under this scenario, analysis of CBO data indicate that, by fiscal year 2019, the debt would have stood at more than $12 trillion, or about 55 percent of GDP. The deficit in that year would have approached $900 billion (about 4 percent of GDP), given continuation of these policies.

4. The debt outlook is now also now worse than in 2009, but once again much of that has nothing to do with the Obama policies. While CBO had said that it would take 10 years to add $6 trillion to the debt, in fact that happened within about 4 years. Annual deficits approached or exceeded $1.3 trillion in each of the last four fiscal years, including 2012. A recent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis, based on CBO data, estimated that the debt, which is projected to grow from the current 68 percent of GDP to almost 90 percent of GDP by 2019 under current policies, would be less than 30 percent of GDP in 2019 were it not for the effects of the economic recession, the Bush tax cuts, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, almost none of this increase has to do with the economic stimulus or the TARP, which are sometimes held out as the main culprits.

5. Under CBO's most recent projections of the continuation of current policies, the debt continues to rise to unsustainable levels. CBO just issued a new set of projections, including what CBO calls its "alternative fiscal scenario," which assumes continuation of the Bush tax cuts, among other policies. Under this scenario, the national debt would grow to $22 trillion (90 percent of GDP) by 2022. Let's be clear what this means. Faced with a huge hole, the "current policy" approach would be to just continue digging until the hole is even deeper. Again, this increase is not mainly caused by additional fiscal actions supported by President Obama, but rather from the continuation of many policies that predated the administration.

6. This having been said, the president's policies have done little to stem the tide of red ink. Under the policies embraced by the president's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, the debt would have increased, by fiscal year 2022, to $19 trillion, or 76 percent of GDP. As a percentage of GDP, this is slightly higher than the fiscal year 2012 level. While the debt would increase from the current level, the Obama budget would represent a reduction of $3 trillion from CBO's more realistic projection. Many of those debt reductions would come from tax increases imposed on wealthy Americans, but there are also some rather modest entitlement reforms and reductions in appropriated spending. Thus, while it is not fair to say that the president has not done anything, at the end of 10 years we would be no better off, in terms of the national debt, than we are now.

7. The president did appoint a deficit commission, and this commission came up with a bold plan to reduce the long-term debt and deficits. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform issued a report in late 2010 urging bold action. Among the proposals endorsed by the commission were tax reform that would result in a net revenue increase, reforms to Social Security that would put the program on a sound footing for 75 years, and cost containment for the medical care programs (Medicare and Medicaid). In addition, the report embraced substantial reductions in discretionary spending. In doing so the deficit commission echoed recommendations made by other bipartisan groups and urged action that would establish a path to stabilizing the debt at no more than 60 percent of GDP within 10 years, and 40 percent of GDP by 2035. This report was approved by a majority of commission members (it passed 11-7) including six sitting members of Congress (three Democrats and three Republicans).

8. The president chose not to embrace the deficit commission report, even though it would have given him political cover to come up with a major debt reduction initiative. President Obama had an opportunity to go further in pursuit of deficit reduction, especially in his fiscal year 2012 budget (issued two months after the report of the deficit commission), but chose not to. The commission report would presumably have given the president an opportunity to embrace some of their proposals, especially given the bipartisan support that the report received. Instead, however, the president was relatively timid in his subsequent budget proposals, coming nowhere near the commission target of 60 percent of GDP. He did not, for example, embrace any broad-based tax reforms or major entitlement reforms, even though both of those will almost certainly have to be part of an eventual solution.

9. The failure by the president to take bolder action represents a significant missed opportunity. Deficit reduction is not easy. It ultimately will involve taking things away from people (benefits that they have become accustomed to, or taxes that they do not want to pay) in the short run in pursuit of benefits that are longer-term in nature. For this reason, history suggests that major deficit reduction actions are most likely to occur when presidents exercise leadership. This is what happened both in 1990, when President George H.W. Bush negotiated a deficit reduction agreement with Congress, and again with the Clinton deficit reduction package of 1993. Those two efforts made a significant contribution to the budget surpluses that resulted by fiscal year 1998. To date, President Obama has chosen the more politically expedient route, which may have been better for his immediate reelection but does not serve the longer-term interests of the country.

10. Thus a clear case can be made that the president's policies have thus far not made the deficit outlook either much worse or much better, but we do not know what a second Obama term would bring. Any charge that the explosion of the deficit can be laid at the feet of the president and his policies is clearly wrong, or at least incomplete. On the other hand, the president's policies, as reflected in his budget proposals, would have done little to put the country on a path to a more sustainable level of debt. The best that can be said about presidential fiscal policies thus far is that they would slow the bleeding, but they neither would stop it nor would they do much to heal the patient.

The main question, in the context of the presidential election, is whether a second Obama term would represent more of the same, or whether we could expect a bold, long-term proposal to finally put the country on a path to a more responsible fiscal policy. There seem to be few clues in the campaign so far that would point us to an answer to that question. This is in spite of the fact that the next president will face, almost immediately, substantial fiscal policy challenges. Collectively dubbed the "fiscal cliff," these changes in policies (the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, and automatic spending reductions resulting from the Budget Control Act) would take effect in the new calendar year, with immense fiscal and economic ramifications. The public deserves to know how both candidates plan to deal with both the short-term, and also the long-term, budgetary problems faced by the country.



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