Romney Needs The “47 Percent” To Win

In order to win, Mitt Romney needs the support of a large segment of the 47% of the populace he wrote off back in May.

Mitt Romney has tried to explain his comments about “the 47 percent” at a May fundraiser by saying that he was trying to explain to the people who were donating large sums of money to his campaign how he could win the election. For example, during his appearance yesterday on Fox News Channel, Romney put it this way:

Romney, while saying his phrasing was not ideal, stood by the premise of his remarks, which reportedly came from a fundraiser in Florida.

“It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question,” Romney said, adding he wants to help “all Americans.”

But he continued: “It’s a message which I am going to carry and continue to carry, which is that the president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because frankly my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them. Therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those in the middle.”

I will admit that, on some level, Romney’s explanation does make sense. In a deeply polarized nation you don’t really win elections by trying to appeal to the people supporting the other guy, you aim for the people in the middle. The problem with Romney’s premise, though, is that he, like many conservatives, confuses two different groups of people. It’s true that there is a group of roughly 47% of Americans — the actual number according to most sources is closer to 46.4%, but why quibble — that pay zero net Federal Income Tax. Leaving aside the fact that this statistic ignores the reasons why most of them don’t pay taxes, or that they by and large do pay other taxes at the Federal, State, and, where applicable, Local level, this is at least accurate. It’s also true that there’s another group of people, also roughly 47% depending on which poll you look at, that are clearly going to vote for the President in November. For some reason, Republicans seem to think that these two groups are roughly equivalent, even though there’s plenty of evidence that there isn’t.

Barack Obama draws support from all types of demographic groups, not just people who don’t pay taxes. And, Mitt Romney does as well. Indeed, there’s a very good argument that Mitt Romney needs the support of the very “47 percent” that he dissed back in May in order win the election:

[T]he divide between “makers” and “takers” is not as simple as Romney put it.

According to the Tax Policy Center, almost two-thirds of those who paid no income taxes did pay federal payroll taxes, which support the Social Security pension program and the Medicare health plan. Many are exempt thanks to lower tax rates and targeted tax breaks that were pushed by Republicans.

Among those who receive government benefits, one-third received Social Security and Medicare – popular programs that are available to all retirees, not just those with low incomes.

Romney will need support of people in both groups if he is going to win.

(…)

Elderly voters have become an important part of the Republican coalition in recent elections, and Romney is struggling to hold on to his advantage among voters age 60 and older.

Romney’s lead over Obama among voters in that group was nearly 20 percentage points last week but has declined to less than a 4-point lead this week, according to Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls. Obama leads among all other age groups.

Romney is not likely to win among lower-income voters but he will need to limit his losses among this group in order to carry battleground states such as Ohio. Romney currently has the backing of 37 percent of voters with income under $50,000, according to a New York Times/CBS poll released last week.

Conservative pundit Bill Kristol termed Romney’s “47 percent” comments “stupid and arrogant” in the Weekly Standard and warned that they could alienate voters in both of those groups.

A Republican congressional aide said Romney’s remarks were “completely boneheaded” and could hurt his appeal among undecided voters. The aide said he did not think support would erode among Republicans, however.

That last part is probably true, but it’s not Republican voters that Romney needs to worry about losing because of these remarks. As noted above, Romney gets significant support from large segments of the population that he said he doesn’t need to worry about reaching out to, especially the elderly. That’s something that’s been true of Republicans since the days of the battles against the Affordable Care Act and the 2010 midterm elections. What exactly it is that possessed Romney to make a comment that essentially wrote off a large part of his own coalition is beyond me.

Jamelle Bouie points out another potential problem that Romney’s remarks create for another segment of his coalition:

Romney’s path to victory depends on an outstanding performance among white voters. Assuming an electorate like 2008’s — 74% white, 26% nonwhite — Romney needs 61% of whites to eke out a victory in the popular vote. As Ron Brownstein points out, this would equal the best performance ever for a Republican challenger among this group of voters. In other words, not an easy mark to hit.

Romney’s best bet for reaching this target has always been working-class whites. Hit hard by the sluggish economy, these voters were thefirst to leave the Obama coalition — Democrats lost them by 18 points in 2008, and 30 points by 2010. Romney’s goal has always been to consolidate those voters and erode Obama’s already-tenuous support among whites as a whole. Likewise, on the other end of things, the Obama camp has been devoted to making Romney as toxic as possible to working-class whites, and blocking any gains he might make.

This is why Obama has leaned so heavily on Bain Capital, and why Romney took to hitting the administration on welfare. It’s central to the campaigns both sides are waging in Ohio and Wisconsin, and why there was some chance that Michigan would emerge as a toss-up state. In some sense, this entire election has been a contest for working-class whites, as both Obama and Romney fight to make the most out of their positions.

But the 47% remarks strike at the heart of Romney’s strategy. The 47% of Americans who don’t pay income tax are those who either don’t make enough money to qualify, or receive tax credits that offset their liability. This group includes students, the elderly, the poor and a large number of working-class families. Yes, some will not see themselves as belonging to the 47%. But when a politician disparages half the country as unwilling to “take responsibility for their lives,” at least some will see these comments as an attack on their livelihoods.

In other words, Romney got it precisely wrong in his talk to his supporters back in May. Indeed, a Gallup poll analysis released yesterday showed that Romney gets a surprisingly high level of support from people in lower income groups. If that support were to decline to any significant degree, it would likely have an impact on his standing in the polls and, presumably, his fate on Election Day. Instead of not needing to worry about the “47 percent” at all because they will be reliable and committed Obama voters, Romney needs to worry about them quite a lot, especially with respect to those white working class voters that Bouie speaks of. Without the support of a substantial portion of that part of the population, Romney can forget about winning a state like Ohio or Wisconsin, and he’s likely to have serious problems winning in Virginia as well. There have already been indications that this group was turning sour on Mitt Romney thanks to the Bain Capital ads that Obama’s campaign and supportive SuperPAC’s have been running quite heavily in states like Ohio. Now that they’ve put together an ad featuring Romney’s “47 percent” comments, I have to wonder what impact that’s going to have on Romney’s likability, and his chances of winning this election.

I know these comments were never intended to be made public, but they have become public, and Romney may just have shot himself in the foot.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Public Opinion Polls, Taxes, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. I know these comments were never intended to be made public, but they have become public, and Romney may just have shot himself in the foot.

    Foot? One of my thoughts last week (perhaps in respect to a different crisis) was that at least Dick Cheney had the sense to shoot the other guy in the face.

  2. Me Me Me says:

    As of this morning I know of the following office holders or candidates who are running away from Romney:
    Scott Brown
    Susanna Martinez
    Linda McMahon
    Dean Heller
    Mark Meadows

    Who bets against this list growing?

  3. Me Me Me says:

    @john personna: No fair winning the thread with the first comment.

  4. The whole problem with the whole makers/takers meme: there’s very few people who pay taxes and get nothing in return. There’s also very few people who get government support and contribute nothing in return. The meme is really more about dividing society up into largely arbitrary classes solely so you can feel superior to the people around you.

    It’s basically the political equivalent of Sneetches whose bellies have stars, railing about those who have none upon thars.

  5. legion says:

    Obama really nailed this on Letterman last night – when you’re President, you’re the President of 100% of Americans – not just the ones who voted for you, and not just the ones you like, but _all_ of them. What Romney’s statements make crystal clear (even when taken in context and given the best possible spin) is that if you’re not a millionaire _and_ actively helping him he simply will not give a single f*ck about you.

  6. @Me Me Me:

    Sorry, I had that mental image on tap.

  7. J-Dub says:

    47% of American households own a gun. It’s 47% so it must be all the same people that don’t pay taxes and support President Obama. I can’t believe Mitt Romney is against gun ownership. Someone should tell the NRA…

  8. Spartacus says:

    This is completely off topic, but I just thought it was important to point out that Doug was right a couple of months back when he argued it was senseless to boycott Chick-Fil-A.

    http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/lawmaker-chick-fil-a-agrees-to-end-donations-to-anti-gay-groups/politics/2012/09/19/49237

  9. @Stormy Dragon:

    Didn’t “makers and takers” start with Erick Erickson or something?

    Helluva way to run for President of the United States.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @john personna: To be fair, he did shoot himself in the foot. The foot in his mouth.

    Obama’s ad agencies must be laying off writers, from here the ads just write themselves.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    In 2009 there were 4,000 millionaires who paid no taxes. I wonder how many of them were in that room.

  12. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s sort of hilarious — in the vein of a dark and tragic comedy — that the media/chattering classes cabal now all of a sudden is so very interested in opining about this demographic schism. Well, gee whiz, champs, welcome to the party. Glad you made it. You’re decades late and dollars short.

    Yeah, Romney needs the “47 percent.” Obama also needs the “53 percent.”

    Now here’s what takes this from the absurd to the truly absurd: This election, in particular, and U.S. politics, in general, are not about who pays federal income taxes and who in that respect freeloads. They’re about demographics, but in the following senses: race, age, marital status, gender.

    Blacks not only vote in lock step for Democrats they vote that way by such uniform margins so as not to be all the far off from what you’d expect to find in totalitarian states. Last time around Obama received 95% of the black vote. This time around it might be higher. That’s not something of which the country should be proud. It’s a travesty. A disgrace.

    Women vote for Democrats. Men vote for Republicans. People under the age of 25 vote in lock step for Democrats. People above the age of 40 vote for Republicans. If you’re single it’s very probable you’ll be voting for the Democrat. If you’re married it’s equally as probable you’ll be voting for the Republican. Again, not exactly shining examples of good democracy in action.

    Identity politics is the hobglobin of a failing and declining nation. What makes it all the more bitter is that as we continue the big slide the political left wing, which created and then for decades has fostered and exploited politics by identity, will preen, pose, posture and wish it so, all the way down to the bottom.

  13. Scott says:

    I know these comments were never intended to be made public

    A test of character is what you say and do when you think no one is watching.

  14. @Tsar Nicholas:

    Identity politics is the hobglobin of a failing and declining nation. What makes it all the more bitter is that as we continue the big slide the political left wing, which created and then for decades has fostered and exploited politics by identity, will preen, pose, posture and wish it so, all the way down to the bottom.

    I think it’s fair to say that in a two party system, many more that two “identity politics” games get mapped in to the equation. Air America listening liberals are a minority and can’t make an election. Erick Erickson listening conservatives likewise. And so the parties pursue generic Hispanics, or specifically Cuban-Americans, or whatever.

  15. Scott says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Identity politics is the hobglobin of a failing and declining nation.

    If this is true, then we have been declining since the beginning of the nation starting with the urban/agrarian split of Hamilton and Jefferson and continuing on through the anti-immigrant, anti-catholic politics of the 1800s, manifesting itself in the populism of the late 1800s, etc. Nixon’s Southern strategy was all about identity politics. And yes, WRT identity politics, both sides have done and will continue to do it.

  16. swbarnes2 says:

    Blacks not only vote in lock step for Democrats they vote that way by such uniform margins so as not to be all the far off from what you’d expect to find in totalitarian states.

    RIght. It has nothing to do with the fact that conservatives buy posters of Trayvon Martin and use them for target practice.

    People under the age of 25 vote in lock step for Democrats

    Yeah. It’s because Republican policies are jaw-droppingly nauseating to young people, not because young people are as a group, evil.

    Women vote for Democrats

    Well, yeah. Women shouldn’t vote, they should be nothing but incubators and sex outlets, right? Funny how half the species rejects the notion that their sentience is no more than a distraction from their real purpose in pleasuring and serving people like you.

    Identity politics is the hobglobin of a failing and declining nation.

    But when the only majority Republicans can get is straight, white, males, that’s not identity politics. Straight, white men are real people, everyone else in the species is just the member of some identity group.

  17. Spartacus says:

    “For some reason, Republicans seem to think that these two groups are roughly equivalent, even though there’s plenty of evidence that there isn’t.”

    This is a legacy of racism in this country. Most people who don’t pay income taxes probably don’t even realize that they’re in that group? It’s too easy for people to believe that it’s only blacks and Latinos that don’t pay any taxes and are sucking up all the welfare. That’s the whole point of Romney’s welfare ads. Based on the conviction with which Romney spoke on the secret video, it seems that he actually believes this as well.

  18. Spartacus says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    ” Last time around Obama received 95% of the black vote. This time around it might be higher.

    Why do you think Obama (and all Democrats) get such a high percentage of the black vote?

  19. David M says:

    Romney and the GOP forgot this rule “don’t get high on your own supply”. They’ve been peddling nonsense so long they started believing it.

    Mitt Romney’s riff on the “47%” might have made good fodder for the right wing blogs, but no one in elected office should have gone near it. It’s a completely useless statistic for basing policy on, and should be politically radioactive to anyone with common sense.

  20. DRS says:

    But he continued: “It’s a message which I am going to carry and continue to carry, which is that the president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because frankly my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them. Therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those in the middle.”

    Romney is a weaselly, mealy mouthed liar. His explanation is crap. He said: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

    He felt they were morally flawed. He was not talking about election strategy. He doesn’t have the courage of his lack of conviction.

  21. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It’s true that there is a group of roughly 47% of Americans — the actual number according to most sources is closer to 46.4%, but why quibble — that pay zero net Federal Income Tax.

    Good post, I’m just going to add that the less you earn, the more likely it is that you’re not going to vote at all. That’s another reason why Romney’s claim that the 47% not paying federal taxes are devoted Obama voters is false.

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Spartacus:

    This is completely off topic, but I just thought it was important to point out that Doug was right a couple of months back when he argued it was senseless to boycott Chick-Fil-A.

    How does that demonstrate he was right? I could just as easily say it proves he was wrong, since obviously C-F-A felt some pressure to change.

  23. JKB says:

    I love how everyone thinks people are simple objects that react without thought to the other elements they care about. Romney simply said he wasn’t going to focus on going after those very voters that Obama pandered to with “Julia”. But of course, the group isn’t just made up of those who’ve become trapped on welfare and those wanting free birth control so it doesn’t interfere with their elite law education. But some of those folks everyone fears are now upset would rather see real effort made to keep Social Security going and real effort to get private sector work going.

    So while Romney needs some of the 47 percent, he’s going to go after them via methods other than promising more “free lunch”.

    But it doesn’t matter now, the words have been said, Romney has responded, Obama has lied about what was said (Letterman). Now, in very few weeks, we’ll see the outcome.

    Oh and I like how the fact the recording was “interrupted by an act of God” right with follow on comments by Romney would provide context, then restarted a couple minutes later without jarring the camera is being ignored. Probably nothing, didn’t this come to light via Carter’s grandson, maybe he was escorting Rosemary Woods’ granddaughter?

  24. David M says:

    @JKB:

    But it doesn’t matter now, the words have been said, Romney has responded, Obama has lied about what was said (Letterman).

    Care to expand on that? And as far as Carter’s grandson, his involvement was connecting the person who made the recording with David Corn / Mother Jones.

  25. @Rafer Janders:

    I think you need your sarcasm detector adjusted.

  26. ptfe says:

    @Rafer Janders: I think you missed the subtle wink in his post.

  27. Me Me Me says:

    @JKB:

    Romney simply said he wasn’t going to focus on going after those very voters that Obama pandered to with “Julia”.

    Actually what Romney “simply said” was that 47% of Americans are morally degenerate self-proclaimed victims who he isn’t going to worry about.

    Nice try, though.

  28. sam says:

    @JKB:

    So while Romney needs some of the 47 percent, he’s going to go after them via methods other than promising more “free lunch”.

    I dunno. The states most benefiting from government largess or whatever are states firmly in his base. There’s a whole lot of 47ers thereabouts. See the graphic in Apparently Romney’s Welfare Queens All Have Southern Accents. Is he going down to Dixie telling all and sundry that the government spigot is going to be turned off? Doesn’t strike me as a smart thing to do, but then I don’t think he (or his campaign) has shown many smarts in this election.

  29. Spartacus says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “How does that demonstrate he was right?”

    I was being entirely sarcastic. Doug was wrong and those who supported the boycott should be glad that their actions made a difference.

  30. JKB says:

    @sam:

    So there you go, if the 47% weren’t going to vote for him anyway but they are mostly in the states he was expected to win anyway, then no harm, no foul.

    but the real problem is whether people feel they resemble that remark. Right here in the comments on this blog, commenters often lament that many get their government money but then pine for smaller government. So even if those people are in the 47%, they probably won’t take offense at the remark.

    The remark was stupid but it probably won’t have the impact of Obama’s clingers remark. Why because Obama attacked deep beliefs that people keep close to their heart. Not paying taxes is something everyone aspires to but if you don’t pay due to using legal deductions or you earned your pay in a combat zone or you are getting your payments from your life long contributions, you are unlikely to take offense at Romney’s remarks as he was talking about the dependent class even as he rolled up a lot of others.

    In any case, this is baked into the price now, so it’s a done deal. Future facts, speeches and secret videos will have more impact from now own.

  31. @JKB:

    There is no 47%.

    That some set of wingnuts think there is, is sad. That a presidential candidate thinks there, is tragic.

  32. mattb says:

    @JKB:

    Not paying taxes is something everyone aspires to

    Thanks for succinctly stating the populist conservative view point. Clearly you don’t believe that citizenship requires a contribution to the central good.

    And one wonders how the Republican/Populist Conservatives can decry free riders while remaining the party that pushed for two wars while cutting taxes and implementing massive entitlement expansions.

  33. grumpy realist says:

    @Rafer Janders: Darlin’, please adjust your snark detector.

  34. David M says:

    Shorter @JKB:

    Romney saying 47% of the country are shiftless losers unwilling to care or take responsibility for themselves is less offensive than Obama saying the Democrats should do more to connect with rural voters.

    Gotcha.

  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: And why should I, as a woman, vote for a party that seems to think that a) I’m stupid b) I’m supposed to value the “life” of a two-celled organism inside me over my own life, c) I shouldn’t worry my pretty head about the possibility of a man getting paid more than I am for the exact same work, and d) shut up that’s why.

    If the Republicans want to attract more blacks/Hispanics/women, they’re going to have to stop coming out with statements that indicate they think those groups should be treated like second-class citizens.

  36. Rob in CT says:

    This part is likely true:

    Right here in the comments on this blog, commenters often lament that many get their government money but then pine for smaller government. So even if those people are in the 47%, they probably won’t take offense at the remark.

    A large chunk of the 47% are Romney supporters, and are not going to suddenly cease being Romney supporters because of his remark. Which, in itself, is kinda sad.

    However, this:

    Not paying taxes is something everyone aspires to

    No, I do not aspire to pay no taxes (or even no income taxes). No. That’s screwed up right there.

    Nobody enjoys paying taxes. That’s true. But I feel a civic duty to pay a reasonable share (debateable, as always!). I do not aspire to pay nothing, for that means either I’ve fallen on hard times, I’m retired and have no taxable income (not my retirement plan – I do believe non-Roth 401(k) money is taxed), or I’m a freeloading asshole.

  37. OliviaC says:

    @JKB:

    Not paying taxes is something everyone aspires to

    That’s probably true.

    I don’t buy the Romney defense (not by him but by his pundit supporters) that the poor are really looking forward to paying their fair share of taxes once they get those better paying jobs. That’s a Progressive’s dry dream, and his alone.

    The way I’d express it is that paying the least amount of tax as possible is what every taxpayer who huddles down w/his accountant aims to accomplish.

    I was amazed at how everyone balked at the reduction in charitable contributions introduced in Obama’s first year.

    You’re also spot-on about Obama denigrating deeply held beliefs but he did recommend pursuing the “clingers” just the same, didn’t he? And that’s where the Romney quote differs. Unless that missing two-minutes contains something similar and that’s doubtful since he already said it wasn’t his job to worry about them.

    William Voegeli has a good piece at NRO and the last paragraph wraps it up nicely. But before I blockquote, he’s also right about Romney’s speech in May really being about fundraising. The idea that you’ve finally seen the “real Mitt” is haters’ gruel.

    In 1998, the New York Times called Idaho, because of its meager social-welfare spending, “the worst place in the nation to be poor.” Liberals and conservatives have different understandings of the import of such a judgment. Liberals seek the kind of non-judgmental attitudes and robust welfare state that would transform censorious, stingy Idaho into Amsterdam, where laissez faire social norms and beaucoup faire government programs combine to render state-subsidized poverty a viable lifestyle option. Conservatives, by contrast, think the best place to be poor is the one with the most opportunities to become formerly poor. Such opportunities require the freedom necessary for economic vigor, but also strong and even stern families, communities, and social norms that equip people to search for and find opportunities, and then make the most of them.

    P.S. Apparently, Nate Silver is “throwing his hands in the air” because the polls are all over the map.

    That doesn’t mean I think Romney will win but that the number of supporters for each man are probably so close that a GOTV, by any means necessary, is what each campaign has got to be about. And that would explain Romney’s doubling down on his comment.

    Gallup shows a 36% less inclined to vote because of the gaffe, a 22% more inclined and 43% at “it doesn’t matter to me.”

  38. jukeboxgrad says:

    jkb:

    I like how the fact the recording was “interrupted by an act of God” right with follow on comments by Romney would provide context

    If Mitt said something important that isn’t on the tape, that’s a problem with a simple solution: he can tell us what he said. Let us know when he does that.

    then restarted a couple minutes later without jarring the camera

    Lots of cameras and camcorders can be operated via a remote control. One of the reasons for this feature is specifically so you can avoid “jarring the camera.” Sorry to burst your bubble.

  39. swbarnes2 says:

    @JKB:

    those wanting free birth control so it doesn’t interfere with their elite law education.

    How revolting. The woman wanted to not have cysts the size of tennis balls in her body.

    Ah, but she’s a woman, which means she doesn’t have a right to that in your book. Conservatives don’t think that sex outlets and incubators deserve even that much.

  40. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Blacks not only vote in lock step for Democrats they vote that way by such uniform margins so as not to be all the far off from what you’d expect to find in totalitarian states. Last time around Obama received 95% of the black vote. This time around it might be higher. That’s not something of which the country should be proud. It’s a travesty. A disgrace. ”

    In the sense that the GOP quite deliberately has made it so, yes.

  41. Barry says:

    Adding on – I hadn’t seen the rest of your remarks.

    It’s pretty rich, coming from the inventors of modern identity politics (Southern Strategy, and Buchanan’s tearing the country in half, to have the bigger part).

  42. An Interested Party says:

    It’s so nice to see Tsar Nicholas and JKB continue their roles here as the Projector-in-Chief and the King of Victims, respectively…meanwhile…

    The idea that you’ve finally seen the “real Mitt” is haters’ gruel.

    Oh really? Than who is the “real Mitt”? Do tell…

    That doesn’t mean I think Romney will win but that the number of supporters for each man are probably so close that a GOTV, by any means necessary, is what each campaign has got to be about. And that would explain Romney’s doubling down on his comment.

    Gallup shows a 36% less inclined to vote because of the gaffe, a 22% more inclined and 43% at “it doesn’t matter to me.”

    I’m wondering if the McCain, Kerry, and Dukakis campaigns tried to live off this kind of fantasy gruel…

  43. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Blacks not only vote in lock step for Democrats they vote that way by such uniform margins so as not to be all the far off from what you’d expect to find in totalitarian states. Last time around Obama received 95% of the black vote. This time around it might be higher. That’s not something of which the country should be proud. It’s a travesty. A disgrace.

    Well, a reason Blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats is because about 45 years ago the Republican Party adopted a Southern Strategy – which played to race resentment among Southern Whites, and very effectively so. So, here we are – the GOP gets less than 10% of hte Black vote because it earned it.

  44. jukeboxgrad says:

    The GOP built that.