PolitiFact fact-checkers rate Obama’s major campaign promises


Barack Obama amassed a record of more than 500 campaign promises when he campaigned in 2008 and 2012.

Some were almost oddly specific on policy (giving Al Gore a role on global warming, or increasing funding for programs that conserve lands and habitat for select species such as the Osceola turkey). A couple were light-hearted (get his daughters a puppy).

Other pledges — ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, delivering a massive health care shakeup — will define his presidency for years to come.

PolitiFact has tracked all of Obama’s campaign promises (533, to be exact) over two elections, issuing ratings of Promise Kept, Compromise, Stalled, In the Works or Promise Broken.

The final results of his performance are in. PolitiFact ruled that Obama kept 48 percent of his campaign promises and broke 24 percent. Another 28 percent were as compromises. 

Here’s the rundown of some of his biggest promises, ranging from Promise Kept to Compromise to Promise Broken.

Promise: Train and equip the Afghan army

Since the 2001 invasion, the United States has spent about $68 billion training and equipping Afghan forces. On Obama’s watch, U.S forces dramatically decreased from 100,000 in 2011 to about 10,000 U.S. troops today, and most are there to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces or are engaged in counterterrorism combat. Meanwhile, Afghanistan forces have more than doubled from 140,000 in 2009 to 320,000 in 2016, and operate without American or NATO support in 80 percent of their missions. Obama can count this one a Promise Kept.

Promise: End the use of torture

Obama issued an executive order that called for humane treatment of prisoners and specifically nullified interpretations of federal law issued by George W. Bush’s Justice Department. The order also prohibited the CIA from using detention centers and created a special team to deal with high-value suspected terrorists using humane techniques. Promise Kept.

Promise: Seek verifiable reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles

After a year of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 — down from the previous limit of 2,200. The New START arms control treaty also allows U.S. inspectors to verify reductions on-site at Russian nuclear bases. It was the first time that a Democratic president has both signed and pushed through an arms treaty with Russia. We rated this a Promise Kept.

Promise: Create new financial regulations

Overhauling the regulation of the financial system was one of Obama’s signature goals in the wake of the global recession he was inheriting. A year after he unveiled a broad outline for financial regulations, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. It created agencies to protect consumers and monitor the U.S. economy and new revelations on mortgage lending, credit cards, proprietary trading, derivatives, hedge funds and executive pay. Promise Kept.

Promise: Begin removing combat brigades from Iraq

The United States remains entangled in Iraq despite Obama’s early promise to end the war. About 150,000 troops were deployed in Iraq when Obama entered office in 2009, and the last convoys left in December 2011. But since then, with the Islamic State gaining ground and the Iraqi military starting to crumble, the United States launched a new military operation, Inherent Resolve, in 2014. There are still about 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and hundreds of U.S. troops have advised and assisted Iraqi forces in campaigns to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. That’s far less than the number of troops in Iraq at the beginning of the Obama presidency, but it’s not a full withdrawal. We rated this a Compromise.

Promise: Cut taxes for 95 percent of American families

Back in 2008, Obama promised to enact a tax credit equivalent to approximately $500 for workers. He got his wish for tax years 2009 and 2010, but the Making Work Pay tax credit maxed out at $400, not $500. After the tax cut expired, Obama then negotiated a bipartisan tax package that include a tax “holiday” for payroll taxes (workers paid 4.2 percent instead of 6.2 percent in 2012). Since then, Obama revived his original promise in his 2015 State of the Union Address and 2016 fiscal year budget, but those proposals haven’t gone anywhere. All in all, this amounts to a Compromise.

Promise: Create a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners

The expectation was to offer relief to 9 million homeowners; the reality was a sliver of aid delivered. The Democratic-led Congress approved a multi-billion gesture to underwater homeowners — at $75 billion, an amount more than seven times what Obama promised — using the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the government sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But even the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program called the housing program “a colossal failure” on the Treasury Department’s watch. Lax oversight and enforcement makes this a Promise Broken.

Promise: Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

Obama’s repeated efforts to make good on this pledge have been met with consistent opposition from Congress. Two days after he was sworn in, Obama issued an executive order to close the prison at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba within one year. But Congress refused to fund the shuttering of the facility. While Obama reduced the number of detainees by 76 percent and made a number of changes to detention policies, these actions fall short of closing Guantanamo. We rate this Promise Broken.

Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

The Supreme Court and Congress have blocked Obama’s efforts to help millions of illegal immigrants temporarily avoid deportation. In 2013, the Senate unveiled an immigration bill that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but it went nowhere in the House. Obama then acted on his own, announcing two programs by executive order to delay the deportation of undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and those who have U.S.-citizen children. These intended to provide temporary reprieve with the hopes that Congress would ultimately agree on a path to citizenship. But on June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on a case related to the efforts. We rate this a Promise Broken.

Promise: Reduce oil consumption by 35 percent by 2030

The United States continues to guzzle gas, and more of it. While Obama set new standards for fuel efficiency, curbing oil use, it hasn’t been enough. In 2009, the United States consumed 18.7 million barrels of oil every day. In 2015, the U.S. consumed more, about 19.4 million barrels per day. By 2030, the U.S. is projected to use 19.1 million barrels per day. That’s a slight decrease from 2015 and less oil than what the government previously predicted (20.2 million barrels) but consumption is not on track on to drop by a dramatic of a pace as Obama’s goal. Promise Broken.

Promise: Bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda

Obama campaigned on a message of hope and unity, but bitter gridlock and increasing partisanship has come to define the political climate today. Congress has set or matched records year after year for polarization. Republicans voted almost entirely along party lines, and against Democrats the good majority of of the time in 2015. There is, however, a silver lining: While 2010 to 2014 were among the least productive legislative sessions in modern history, Congress actually passed the most laws since Obama took office in 2015, just not the ones Obama wanted. We rated this Promise Broken.


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