Leaked Romney tape shows Mitt’s misunderstandings

A tape of Mitt Romney speaking to donors at a fundraising dinner is getting a lot of attention.

Mother Jones magazine has posted a series of segments. This one is getting the most attention.

Regarding Obama supporters, Romney says:

[T]here 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.

This includes several misunderstandings.

One is that Obama’s supporters are composed of people who receive government payments, whether on food, health care or housing. 

Yet, as exit polls from 2008 show, among the 53% of people who voted for Obama are people from varied class backgrounds. Moreover, Obama did well among upper-middle class and upper-income people.

52% of people with incomes over $200,000 a year voted for Obama, as did 51% of people with incomes between $75,000-$100,000 a year.

And, if one breaks down the population into two groups, with $50,000 a year as the dividing point, you find that while Obama clearly did better with the under $50,000 a year group, winning 60% of that group, he and McCain evenly split the vote for people making over $50,000 a year.

Another error involves how Romney characterizes people who don’t pay federal income tax.

For one, these people do pay taxes. Many of them are working and they pay payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Some are too old to work and are receiving Social Security now but pay sales tax and property taxes. Even the poorest pay sales tax.

See this chart from the Tax Policy Center on federal taxes.


In breaking down just that 47%, Ezra Klein notes:

61 percent paid payroll taxes — which means they have jobs and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid. Another 22 percent were elderly.

So 83 percent of those not paying federal income taxes are either working and paying payroll taxes or they’re elderly and Romney is promising to protect their benefits because they’ve earned them. The remainder, by and large, aren’t paying federal income or payroll taxes because they’re unemployed.

Overall, the characterization of “the 47%” in these negative terms misses the reality that almost everyone in this category has worked for decades over their lifetimes or is working now.

Besides making these mistakes, Romney is dismissive of these citizens and says it wouldn’t be his job to worry about them.

[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.

There are always questions about who should pay what in income taxes. But Romney’s statements reveal some real misunderstandings about current realities, both about federal taxpayers and the bases of Obama’s support.

One thing seems certain. Romney is already seen as caring mostly about wealthy individuals. This tape will cement that perception.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.