Tuesday, September 18, 2012

dissecting "the 47 percent"

Candidate Mitt Romney continues to wield a very blunt scalpel in his dissection of the U.S. class structure. A video clip from a May 2012 speech to prospective contributors has ignited the most recent campaign firestorm. In it, he states that "47 percent" of Americans "view themselves as victims," and he's not interested in reaching out to them. The clip, initially published in a Mother Jones article by David Corn, will no doubt receive big press over the duration of the campaign. Romney goes on to claim the "47 percent" are government dependents, who pay no federal income taxes. Juliet Lapidos in a New York Times article examines the 46.4 percent of Americans who paid no federal income taxes during 2011. This population, quoting Lapidos, has the following characteristics:
  • They are more likely to live in Republican states. The states with the highest percentage of non-filers, with the exception of Florida and New Mexico, are solidly red. Ezra Klein calculates that Mr. Romney will receive “96 electoral votes from the ‘taker’ states” while Mr. Obama will receive 5. (29 are tossups.)
  • More than one-fifth are elderly. David Frum says they’re “people who pay no income taxes because their income takes the form of Social Security.”
  • Most of them pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than Mr. Romney. Here’s Ezra Klein again: “Among the American who paid no federal income taxes in 2011, 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.”
  • Some of them are simply too poor to pay federal taxes. In 2011, 18.1 percent of households paid neither income tax nor payroll taxes. Within that group, more than half are elderly; over one-third are nonelderly with annual income under $20,000.
  • Some of them are wealthy, and manage to slip into Mr. Romney’s dependent-victim category due to exemptions and deductions. As ABC noted in June, “20,752 households that reported earning more than $200,000 in 2009 paid no federal income taxes. About 1,500 of those tax-free Americans were millionaires.”
A series of graphics providing greater detail about those Americans who paid no federal income taxes during 2011 is available at NPR.   

Update: see Jamelle Bouie's July 2014 Slate article for a history on the use of the "47 percent" meme among conservative politicians and pundits.


  1. I feel that Romney is upset at those 47% of people that aren't voting for him and is saying that he isn't willing to help them out either. He started of with a larger percentage of votes but when the American people actually listened to what he had to say they decided that maybe he wasn't the correct candidate for them. One of the things that Romney said that stuck out the most to me that was not mentioned in this video but will have a huge effect on future college students is the fact that he is trying to cut pell checks. What are the parents who don't have the means to support their children supposed to do? That pell check may not be a lot of money but it is helpful to the students who get it and need it. Also he made a statement saying that perhaps the kids should just borrow money from their parents to go to college. Outside of the people who actually have the money to do that which probably isn't a high percentage whose parents are really going to give them 50-70k to go to college? I don't agree with anything he has to say. "Let's keep America American" Lets research where that slogan came from before we go any further.

  2. I am definitely not a fan of a potential president calling 47% of Americans deadbeats that have no hope and I'm curious as to if he was elected president how would he treat these 47% as far as trying to put them back to work and encouraging them instead of talking down on them. Does he plan to get 47% of the population to where they can afford to pay taxes even though they are in poverty right now? From what I took most from these comments is that if you are not a part of the 1% this Romney is actively working against you. What is also interesting is that I think Mitt Romney is attacking his own voters when he makes comments like these because after doing a bit of research on my own it seems that the 47% that he is talking about mostly lives in the notoriously "red states"

    Top Ten States by Percentage of Filers with No Tax Liability.
    Mississippi (45%) Georgia (41%)
    Arkansas (41%) South Carolina (40%)
    New Mexico (40%) Alabama (40%)
    Louisiana (39%) Texas (39%)
    Florida (39%) Idaho (39%)