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The Cluelessness of Romney’s 47 Percent Statement

The blogosphere is abuzz over the release of a secret recording of Mitt Romney speaking to wealthy donors at a private fundraising dinner at the home of a hedge fund manager in Boca Raton. I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times by now, but here’s the big statement everyone is jumping on:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

Romney went on: “[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The furor over this statement is justified, of course; it’s wrong on so many levels simultaneously that it’s astounding. Most interesting, I think, is how wrong he is in his purely political analysis. As Derek Thompson points out, a pretty sizable percentage of those who pay no federal income taxes vote Republican. First, he breaks down who comprises that 47%:

In 2011, 47% of Americans paid no federal income taxes. Within that group, two-thirds still pay payroll taxes. The rest are almost all either (a) old and retired folks collecting Social Security or (b) households earning less than $20,000. Overall, four out of five households not owing federal income tax earn less than $30,000, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Here’s another, slightly wonkier, way to think about the 47%. Divide the group into two halves. The first half is made tax-free by credits and exemptions, the vast majority of which go to senior citizens and children of the working poor. The half that you’re left with is so poor, they wouldn’t owe federal income taxes even if there were zero tax expenditures.

There are some not-so-poor outliers, like the 7,000 millionaires who paid no federal income taxes in 2011. But for the most part, when you hear “The 47%” you should think “old retired folks and poor working families.”

He also notes that eight of the ten states with the highest rates of residents who don’t pay federal income tax are all solidly Republican states (the only exceptions are Florida, with a very high number of elderly residents, and New Mexico, a swing state). But he points out that in those states, about 1/3 of the voters with incomes under $30,000 tend to vote Republican. And elderly voters skew strongly Republican. So by dismissing anyone who doesn’t pay federal income taxes, he’s dismissing a sizable chunk of his voting base.

And Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor of the National Review, argues that Romney is wrong when he says that government benefits and more people not paying federal income taxes has skewed the vote toward Democrats:

As an explanation for electoral trends, though, this theory doesn’t hold up.

One major reason for the growth of the federal government in recent years has been that entitlement spending per beneficiary has increased, and so has the number of beneficiaries as people have retired. Yet senior citizens — who benefit from federal programs, on average, far more than younger people — have become more Republican over that same period. They actually voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008 by a slightly higher margin than they did for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

In 2010, their Republican margin increased even more, to a whopping 21 points. Pollster Scott Rasmussen told me that in his latest poll, Romney still leads among seniors by 19 points.

It’s true that Americans with low incomes — more and more of whom now receive food stamps and federally subsidized health insurance — have generally voted for Democrats over Republicans. But in 2010, these voters shifted toward Republicans even as food stamps, unemployment benefits and the like continued to increase.

So his words aren’t just outrageous and revealing, they’re also just flat wrong. And even Bill Kristol is blasting him for it:

It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters—especially of course seniors (who might well “believe they are entitled to heath care,” a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan. So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.

But there’s two other aspects to this that make it even more absurd. The first is that Romney has repeatedly sworn that he would not raises taxes on the elderly, which cuts out a big portion of those who pay no federal income taxes. The second is that the primary way the working poor, the rest of that group, avoid paying federal income taxes is the Earned Income Tax Credit — which is a policy put in place by both Democrats and Republicans as a means of giving people the incentive to do exactly what Romney is slamming them for, get a job and take care of themselves.

Comments

  1. jws1 says

    No matter how much the media keep repeating “this election will be close” it is apparent that Obama has sizable, and opening, lead. Romney is not likeable, and cannot manage a campaign effectively. He isn’t fit to govern and this story will not go away.

  2. raven says

    These are people who pay no income tax.”

    It’s also quite insulting to people who voted for Obama.

    A lot of them are middle class and some are upper middle class or wealthy.

    They pay taxes, sometimes a lot in taxes.

  3. eric says

    But there’s two other aspects to this that make it even more absurd. The first is that Romney has repeatedly sworn that he would not raises taxes on the elderly, which cuts out a big portion of those who pay no federal income taxes…

    Its absurd in a much more general sense. Romney is promising tax cuts for all while saying people who don’t pay taxes are moochers. Produce moochers with one hand, look down on them with the other.

  4. Randomfactor says

    Add to that the fact that in some years Romney himself might’ve been in the 47 percent…

    Which would explain why he won’t release those tax returns…

  5. John Hinkle says

    I don’t know why anyone even bothers analyzing who the 47% are, because Romney clearly meant “lazy, good-for-nothing, freeloading democrats who’ll only vote for a democrat to keep their handouts.”

    Romney could’ve cleared the whole thing up the next day if he had said, “I meant ‘democrats’, not the forty seven percent.” Then all the democrats would’ve flipped him the bird and the republicans would’ve cheered.

  6. matty1 says

    I have a hypothesis that Mitt Romney simply doesn’t know what poverty is. He has never been in the position of being unable to afford anything he wants and assumes everyone else is the same.

    Since he cannot comprehend actual poverty or even having to save up to afford something he sees the difference between himself and ‘the poor’ not as a matter of how much spending money they have but of where that money comes from. His money you see comes from business, which is inherently virtuous, their money comes from government, which can do nothing right (unless it involves uteri – then government is infallible).

  7. ethanol says

    It is interesting to try to fit this comment with another statement of his that got a lot of coverage, specifically when he said that if he paid a cent more in tax than he legally owed, he wouldn’t be fit for the job of president. These people didn’t write the tax code, why are they to be blamed for following it? Perhaps the more coherent interpretation of his statement is that the moral failing of the 47% is not that they pay no federal income tax, but that they are poor.

  8. MyPetSlug says

    Another way in which his statement is outrageous is just how falsely dichotomous (is that even a real phrase?) it is, dividing the electorate into two groups. Those who pay no taxes and want handouts from the government, who will always vote democratic, and those who pay taxes and believe in hard work, who will vote republican. Fuck him, I have a high paying job, pay my taxes, and will vote for Obama because I believe cutting taxes on the rich while increasing military spending (among many other policies), is a terrible idea.

    But one comment to something Ed said “a pretty sizable percentage of those who pay no federal income taxes vote Republican”. While this is true, I can’t help feeling that many of these people don’t consider themselves in the “moocher” class. Sure they pay no federal income taxes, but it’s those lazy welfare queens that vote democratic that Romeny is talking about, they think. This is part of the republican mindset. They don’t think, shit, if I lose my job, I might need healthcare. They think, some undeserving lazy person (probably a minority) will get free healthcare that I have to pay for. It’s all about the undeserving “other”.

  9. cry4turtles says

    Does anybody else think that a good portion of the 19 point lead among seniors could be due to old school racism?

  10. jaranath says

    Another point that I’m not seeing much comment on:

    Health care is controversial as a basic human right, though I think it is one. But Romney lumped food and shelter in with that as things people unreasonably think they’re entitled to. I would like to see him make “let the lazy poor freeze and starve” a more prominent plank in his platform as we head to election day. That would be…fun.

  11. Kengi says

    It’s also annoying that, in part, the Republican “half of Americans don’t pay taxes” gambit has actually taken hold in most minds anyway. They chose one tax, the federal income tax, to make that statement from.

    Why not compare a usage tax, like gasoline taxes, in terms of percentage of income? We need to shift the discussion to overall effective tax rates. What do different groups of people, overall, pay in total taxes per yer as a percentage of their income?

    I seem to never run across that discussion…

  12. says

    I’m frustrated at the focus over “the 47 percent” number, who they are, whether they really vote Democratic, etc. For me, the telling part of the tape is when Romney says this:

    I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

    I mean, it’s not necessarily a surprise, considering that the “makers vs. takers” trope has a long history within conservative circles, but when a candidate for President comes right out and says he believes the less-fortunate among us have only themselves to blame — well, to me, THAT’S the important takeaway.

  13. smhll says

    I realize that I’m advancing an argument that may not find much traction in the atheist community, but was Jesus actually against feeding the poor and elderly, and helping them have healthcare? Nuh uh. That’s an extremely unchristian position Mr. Romney has carved out.

  14. teele says

    #1: “No matter how much the media keep repeating ‘this election will be close’ it is apparent that Obama has [a] sizable, and opening, lead.”

    I think Mr. Ryan may agree with you, since he not only continues to pursue re-election to his congressional seat, but is actively pouring money into that effort.

    However, Mr. Romney does have all of the attributes of the Bush-Cheney ticket rolled into one: the keen analytical intelligence of George W. Bush combined with the warmth, compassion and charm of Dick Cheney. Need I point out that Bush-Cheney occupied the White House for 8 years?

  15. Taz says

    I’m not fond of pigeon-holing people based on an anecdote, but the more I see of Romney the more I think the bullying incident he led in school defines him pretty well.

  16. matty1 says

    @Kengi, Your question intrigued me so I had a brief search and found this link. I won’t comment on the reliability of the site as this is just the first thing that popped up on Google but if it is legit then the graphs appear to show that the richer people are the lower their overall tax burden.

    Figure 3 is particularly interesting in implying that overall taxation is regressive (i.e the more you earn the less you pay). Although in fairness I find the headings confusing as it is not clear if they mean that only state and local taxes are regressive or that including those makes the whole system regressive.

  17. says

    “I have a hypothesis that Mitt Romney simply doesn’t know what poverty is. He has never been in the position of being unable to afford anything he wants and assumes everyone else is the same.”

    Wrong. Romney knows all too well what poverty looks like; Bain Capital MANUFACTURES poverty.

    He’s not, on the subject of poverty, clueless (he certainly IS clueless in many other areas). To be generous in an analysis, his opinion of those who have less than him and his “fellows” are laggards, dolts and moral degenerates. To be less generous? he’s a fucking asshole who thinks everyone in the “47%” are livestock to be used as a resource and culled when the herd becomes unmanageable.

    I think it would be good to see Mittmoroni’s “Christmas Letter” to the sheeple if he became PotUS. I think it might begin:

    “”Are there no prisons?, workhouses? Are they still in operation?”

    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour. I was afraid that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course.”

    Mittmoroni fixes his gaze on the mob of sleek, well dressed and impeccably coiffed CEO’s and other member of the 53% of MurKKKans who are NOT useless scum, he relates that he will be with his family for the holidays and he speaks of his fondest wish for Christmas.

    “I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’

    I have been told that “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die. If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that. It’s not my business. It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen.”*

    And to those who can afford it a Merry Christmas and, to them, a Good night!

    * Cribbed from here (http://www.stormfax.com/1dickens.htm) with apologies to Mr. Dickens.

  18. jws1 says

    @ teele: Bush-Cheney were not a gaffe-athon. And, as was cleverly quipped in another thread yesterday (I think), the Romney campaign seems to be ran by the 1969 Chicago Cubs.

  19. says

    ” That’s an extremely unchristian position Mr. Romney has carved out.”

    Well, he’s not REALLY a christian, according to a substantial segment of his rabid base.

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    How many of those too poor to pay federal income taxes once did so, before their employers were bought out and sucked dry by Bain Capital?

  21. says

    smhll @14: I realize that I’m advancing an argument that may not find much traction in the atheist community, but was Jesus actually against feeding the poor and elderly, and helping them have healthcare? Nuh uh. That’s an extremely unchristian position Mr. Romney has carved out.

    It’s actually a really useful argument to be aware of in the general non-Christian community. You don’t have to personally believe it to know that there are those who might find it persuasive. I used it just this morning.

    Of course, the problem is that if someone claims to be a Christian but actually buys an argument like this in the first place…chances are they won’t listen to an argument founded on the words of Jesus, anyway.

  22. Reginald Selkirk says

    The topper for me is Romney’s “no apologies” stance. He obviously screwed up big time, but he just can’t admit it. Do we need another president who refuses to apologize for the things he screws up?

  23. Reginald Selkirk says

    smhll #14″ I realize that I’m advancing an argument that may not find much traction in the atheist community, but was Jesus actually against feeding the poor and elderly…

    The interesting thing is how little traction this argument has in right wing circles, most of which claim to be devoutly Christian. Their counter-argument is that they believe in charity, but that it should be done by religious charities, not the gubmint.

  24. cptdoom says

    I mean, it’s not necessarily a surprise, considering that the “makers vs. takers” trope has a long history within conservative circles, but when a candidate for President comes right out and says he believes the less-fortunate among us have only themselves to blame — well, to me, THAT’S the important takeaway.

    And it’s incredibly rich coming from a man who now insists he has no “personal responsibility” for the actions of a company of which he was both CEO and sole owner, at least for the years 1999 – 2002.

    So “taking responsiblity” for you life in Romneyland does include blaming the poor for not trying hard enough, but not fulfilling one’s fiduciary trust as the leader of a major corporation.

  25. dean says

    Apparently Mitt’s grandparents (and his father as a child) were among “those people” who sucked on liberty’s teat while others worked.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/09/18/mitt-romneys-fundraising-comments-would-mom-approve/?print=1

    In a video posted to YouTube on Sept. 7, Romney’s late mother Lenore Romney participates in an interview that appeared to take place in the lead up to Romney’s father’s run for governor of Michigan in 1962. She was asked to respond to people who said that since George Romney is a man of considerable means, he does not care about people.
    “He was on welfare relief for the first years of his life. But this great country gave him opportunities,” Lenore Romney says in the video, upon which the logo of the Web site Buzzfeed is superimposed.

  26. says

    matty1: “… their money comes from government, which can do nothing right (unless it involves uteri – then government is infallible).”

    That is absolutely not true. Government is notoriously inefficient and incompetent at everything it has ever tried to do from time immemorial, true, and never does anything right. Simultaneously, however, no innocent person has never been put to death because the government employees responsible for convicting and frying/gassing/hanging/shooting (dark-skinned) murderers never make a mistake and are highly efficient.
    Also, government cannot ever, ever ever create jobs. Except in the case of defense expenditures, whose ever-growing funding is responsible hundreds of thousands of jobs and must never be decreased.*
    I’m Mitt Romney, and I approve these (conflicting) messages.

    * Also, also, Mitt Romney’s secret plan to create 12 million jobs will work just as awesomely as Nixon’s secret peace plan and John McCain’s secret plan to take down Osama bin Laden.

  27. says

    smhll “I realize that I’m advancing an argument that may not find much traction in the atheist community, but was Jesus actually against feeding the poor and elderly, and helping them have healthcare? Nuh uh. That’s an extremely unchristian position Mr. Romney has carved out.”
    Nuh huh! It makes perfect sense if you assume the government in charge is 1st century Roman in breadth and design.

    fifthdentist “That is absolutely not true. Government is notoriously inefficient and incompetent at everything it has ever tried to do from time immemorial, true, and never does anything right. Simultaneously, however, no innocent person has never been put to death because the government employees responsible for convicting and frying/gassing/hanging/shooting (dark-skinned) murderers never make a mistake and are highly efficient.”
    And even if they do make a mistake, the person Death Penalty’d must’ve been guilty of something. And even if he wasn’t, his killing shows others not to commit crime.

  28. says

    Why is there this near-fetishization of the federal income tax all of a sudden (i.e., within the last three years)? Especially from the GOP, who instituted and/or supported many of the tax breaks that are in the federal income tax structure? I mean, the GOP wanted lower taxes for everyone; they should be ECSTATIC that there are people around who are paying NO federal income tax at all, right?

    I mean, how much lower can you make taxes than $0?

    Maybe, though, the GOP are jealous of all the amazing entitlement perks that all these people become eligible for.

    I mean food stamps! It’s like magic: you take these government issued cards and use them at stores to buy insufficient quantities of often lower-quality food items!

    And unemployment insurance! The government pays you to look for work! (Until, that is you stop looking, and choose live a life of ease.)

    And MEDICARE! Woah: you get state-sponsored medical care for a highly selective set of conditions, mostly paid for, and up to a certain amount! WOW!

    And don’t forget about what HUD can give you: a domicile slightly larger than a Manhattan studio! Do you know how much those studios go for in Manhattan?! Talk about LUXURY!

    I mean, with all those perks and entitlements to choose from, why try to find a full-time job that pays more than $9/hour? Better to stay below the minimum federal income tax threshold, and take advantage of all those awesome government programs that the more-moneied can only DREAM to take part in, right?

  29. Trebuchet says

    @#24, Reginald Selkirk:

    The topper for me is Romney’s “no apologies” stance. He obviously screwed up big time, but he just can’t admit it. Do we need another president who refuses to apologize for the things he screws up?

    He’s a classic CEO. They NEVER take responsibility for their screwups. In most cases, they find a fall guy. In this case, since he’s caught on tape, he has to just double down.

  30. spamamander, more skeptical-er and rational-er than you says

    I don’t know about anyone else here, but I am TOTALLY loving the standard of living I get from not paying income taxes. I mean, without paying income tax, I get to keep a bunch more of that less than $16k a year! Of course, I cheat and get child support and a huge handout of $300 a month in SSI for my disabled child, so you KNOW what a moocher I am. Hell yeah!

  31. Michael Heath says

    Reginald Seldkirk writes:

    The topper for me is Romney’s “no apologies” stance. He obviously screwed up big time, but he just can’t admit it. Do we need another president who refuses to apologize for the things he screws up?

    I see apologies as a mark of good character and therefore almost always promote authentic reptentance. However, if Mr. Romney paid me to consult him on doing damage control, I don’t know what kind of advice I could give him that would help advance his electoral chances.

    That’s because his campaign and the Republican party’s actual planks are wholly dependent on the false premises and obviously bigoted conclusions expressed in this video. So an authentic apology would require him to effectively abandon the core premises of his campaign and concede the race to President Obama. Which obviously isn’t going to happen nor is revamping his entire campaign and remaking himself once again a viable option.

    If I were advising the Republican party, I could give advice. Use this event to concede to the American people that the party is not capable of good governance. That the root cause is due to both a failure of collective character and a failure of policy due to their failure of character. That reform starts now and the GOP will authentically and energetically work to become a right wing party worthy of once again governing. Of course that ain’t going to happen either; in fact it’s safe to predict the points expressed in the Romney video will be a minimal starting point to get considered in the ’16 race. Rush Limbaugh’s already promoting this tact.

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