The questions from the audience were quite good. You can see how nervous some of them were when they read out their questions but they must thought about what to ask the candidates very carefully and written it on paper so they wouldn't fumble when asking their questions.
America is in a difficult post-financial crisis economic period with high unemployment, high govt debt and high income inequality. The economy is seeing a weak recovery but not creating enough jobs for those who join the workforce. The belief of the Republicans seem to be tax-cuts being a cure-all for American economy. Candidate Romney's proposed $5 Trillion over 4 years in tax cuts is very counter-intuitive as he claims it will not only revive the economy but narrow the deficit[Link]. His proposal will cut income taxes by 20% for all, eliminate estate (inheritance) taxes, and extend the temporary Bush tax cuts by making them permanent. So far analysts have not found this plan credible as Romney claims he can recover these tax cuts by finding money closing tax loop holes which he has failed to detail throughout his campaign. Romney has also proposed increased military spending.
These tax cuts and Romney's campaign has found strong support among the ultra-rich. Some of them genuinely feel that taxes are oppressive and are strongly opposed to Obama's plan to raise taxes on the top 2% of the population[Billionaires against Obama]. Despite the need to close the deficit and narrow the income gap, these billionaires, many of whom are self-made, feel that any increase in taxes is unjust. For some, it is a combination of higher taxes and increase regulation that led them to oppose Obama so strongly. These new regulations most of which were introduced to prevent another financial crisis are opposed by those in the banking sector.
There is strong similarity between US Republicans and the PAP govt when it comes to taxes and regulation. The main difference is the PAP govt practices strict "fiscal conservatism", they don't go into deficits or borrow to fund spending. The PAP goes further in many areas- even less on social spending, lower progressive taxes, less financial sector regulation. In the US they debated about elimination inheritance taxes for the last 10 years - Bush could not garner enough support to eliminate it and Romney brings it back on the table. In Singapore, the PAP govt did it almost "overnight" [Link]- no debate needed.
If you go back to Obama's campaign in the 2008 election, the early part of the election before the financial crisis, his focus was primarily on the healthcare system - the high cost of care and large number of uninsured Americans was considered a severe problem. Today in Singapore we have more uninsured or under-insured people per capita than when US was having a healthcare crisis but the PAP govt does see it as a big deal. Recent case of a family having to incur medical debt of $130K payable over 42 years for their child who was hospitalized for meningitis[Link]. The boy is a PR (Permanent Resident) but such high debts can be incurred by any Singaporean so long as they are not adequately covered. What is incredible is the MSM (mainstream media) wrote about this story to highlight the generous gesture by the KK Hospital to allow the family to pay its medical debt over 42 years instead of bankrupting the family or forcing them to sell home to pay their medical bills. ...rather than highlighting the inadequacies of our medical system and high cost of medical care that left this family in dire straits. The child's father, a lorry driver who earns $1000 a month, now has to pay $250 every month for the next 42 years - all this happening in a country with the highest average income in the world. Among developed countries, Singaporeans shoulder the highest level of % of medical expenditure vs govt spending on healthcare and Singaporeans have the highest out of pocket spending.
America's inequality has caused a polarization of its society that led to this almost acrimonious debate. Different strata of society with their own interests to protect. The decrease of taxes in US to historic lows did not lead to satisfaction of ideological right and the expansion of the income inequality does not concern them too much. Some on the left want to go back to the days of the "welfare queen" that America can no longer afford. One side wants to expand social spending, the other side wants to expand military spending but they can do neither as the country's debt pile up. There seem to be no middle ground for either side to walk on and whoever wins the election will be opposed by almost half the people.
Singapore has a 3rd world wage structure with much of the benefits GDP growth going to the top few % of the population. PAP's policies have been extremely pro-business until its 'poorer than expected' election results in 2011. The govt has softened its stance a little to persuade the populace that it will implement policies that will benefit them. However, until we close the income gap, or seriously mitigate its effects by implementing universal healthcare, wage restructuring and transform our system we will face the same polarizing forces as we see in the USA. The old days of authoritarian style govt with control of the media to make us accept various policies are now over......The PAP has now resorted to 'conversation' but nobody is interested in 'old wines in new bottles'. The conversation initially generated interest because we were told there were no 'sacred cows' so people expected fundamental change only to find that the PAP cannot change fundamentally. Even as they converse, the problems are deepening and if there is no credible vision to take Singaporeans to a better future, it is hard to believe things will improve.