In case you hadn't heard, Mitt Romney just insulted about half of Americans behind closed doors. Mother Jones has obtained video taken at a Florida campaign fundraiser in May, wherein Romney explained his idea of an Obama voter:
"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: "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney was repeating a misleading statistic about how many Americans pay taxes — although only about 46 percent of Americans pay income tax, that number jumps to 78 percent once we account for households paying payroll tax. He also wrongly conflated those who don't pay taxes with those who reap government benefits. But even setting aside the math, is Romney right about this group being Obama voters? Is he right to assume that lower-income voters — the ones who believe they are "victims," the ones who are "entitled" — will be casting their ballots for Obama this fall?
No. Not by a long shot.
Let's examine who this 47 percent actually is. They're young people and students, who are quintessential Obama voters. But since Social Security isn't considered taxable income, 10 percent are elderly people, the majority of which vote Republican. They're poor people: About one third are the very poor, earning less than $20,000 each year. But they're also rich people: 7,000 millionaires managed to not pay income taxes in 2011 because of deductions, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Another fact about the 47 percent? They disproportionately live in red states.
Very low income voters do tend to vote Democrat, but many, many poor people routinely vote for Republicans because of social issues and religion — or because they believe they, too, can get rich one day. It's a paradox that progressives have agonized over for ages. If all it took to turn the country blue was to round up the poor and force them to vote, we would have long since turned into a perma-Democratic country. And then there's the problem of voter turnout: Rich people vote more often than poor ones.
Given the swift public reaction, the "47 percent" meme will likely haunt Romney until the end of the campaign. He should take it to heart: He's writing off lots of people who are (or were) all set to vote for him.