Romney’s 47 percent comments insult his own voters

by Russell's Rants

Originally posted September 30, 2012


When Mitt Romney dismissed 47 percent of the electorate as “non-tax-paying,” “dependent,” “victims” and “entitled,” he was merely repeating a mean-spirited but long-standing conservative critique of the social safety net. And when Romney went further and said that it wasn’t his job to worry about “those” people who will vote for President Obama “no matter what,” he conflated two issues – to his electoral detriment.

Yes, about 47 percent of American households pays no federal income tax (but plenty of sales, property and payroll taxes). But no, that 47 percent are not all Obama voters. So Mr. Romney, let me introduce you to a big chunk of your own base: white voters without a college education.

It has long been a false conviction among the conservative literati that the Democratic Party creates its own special-interest clientele based upon “purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors.” George F. Will’s August 29th column reviewed a new book by a popular National Review writer titled “Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party…” Will published his column after Romney made his “47 percent” comments at a May 17th private fundraiser in Boca Raton, but before those surreptitiously recorded comments became public in mid-September. See if Will’s thesis has a familiar ring:

Before Franklin Roosevelt, “liberal” described policies emphasizing liberty and individual rights. He, however, pioneered the politics of collective rights — of group entitlements. And his liberalism systematically developed policies not just to buy the allegiance of existing groups but to create groups that henceforth would be dependent on government.

Under FDR, liberalism became the politics of creating an electoral majority from a mosaic of client groups. Labor unions got special legal standing, farmers got crop supports, business people got tariff protection and other subsidies, the elderly got pensions, and so on and on.

Here’s the problem with Will and Romney’s “dependency” thesis: the modern Democratic Party has many constituencies with no interest in federal government subsidies: from gays who just don’t want to be discriminated against – to Latinos who just want to be able to earn a living as citizens – to women who want their reproductive freedom – to minorities who want to be treated equally. No transfer payments here.

So does Obama’s chance of victory in November depend on capturing all of the 47 percent of voters that pay no income taxes? Well, actually, no.

As the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein explained,

For Obama, the formula for success in 2012 can be reduced to a single equation: 80-40. If he can hold the combined 80 percent he won among all minorities in 2008…, then he can assemble a national majority with support from merely about 40 percent of whites.

That means for Romney to win, he needs 60 plus percent of all white voters.

And who are these white voters that are susceptible to being persuaded to vote for Romney? Turns out that more than half of them are in the demographic group that lacks a college education, and of this group about half make less than $60,000 per year – which is the very income group that doesn’t pay federal income taxes. Obama is actually holding his own with college-educated whites, especially women.

Prior to the national party conventions, polls showed Romney making his biggest inroads among non-college educated white voters – especially men. Obama had lost nearly 6 percentage points among white voters without a college degree from his 2008 levels, including millions of traditionally Democratic white working class voters.

After the conventions, including Bill Clinton’s disquisition on “arithmetic,” and Romney’s 47 percent comments, white voters in swing states have swung dramatically to Obama. For example, in Florida Romney’s lead among whites, even among those lacking a college degree, has shrunk 12 points since the conventions. Enough of this group has moved over to Obama to give him a lead in the national polls.

As even Forbes had to painfully admit,

It appears Governor Romney is referring to the 47 percent of Americans who did not pay federal income tax last year—22 percent of whom were elderly people on Social Security, while 17 percent were students and disabled Americans. Much of the remaining Americans who paid no federal income taxes were low-income workers who qualify under the law for the earned income tax credit but do pay payroll taxes. Ironically, many of these low-income, non-federal income tax paying people are white, working class Americans who are a part of Romney’s base of support.

Of course, Bill Maher was funnier:

Even Republicans now are kind of tiptoeing away from Mitt Romney. They’re very upset about his video. They say it shows Mitt Romney doing something very stupid: expressing the core beliefs of the Republican party publicly… At this point, he kind of has to own it…. His new campaign slogan is “Get out of my sight, America. You make me sick.”

Romney must be surprised that he’s getting so much heat for “inelegantly” repeating what is commonly accepted lore among conservatives. Those conservatives might want to rethink their thesis of American politics generally, and the attraction of Barack Obama specifically. For those voters reconsidering their vote for Romney in light of his 47 percent comments, they must be asking themselves what they truly ever had in common with the party that is of, by and for the 1 percent.