I’m a couple of days late to this, because of the Jewish New Year, but I’ll throw my belated two cents in to say: if I had to bet, I’d wager a slightly larger percentage of Romney’s electoral coalition consists of non-income-tax-payers than of Obama’s. And insulting those voters won’t hurt his electoral chances one bit.
Romney will get the lion’s share of wealthy non-income-tax-payers’ votes. That’s a very small number of people, but still, it’s worth noting them because one of the few clear points of difference between the candidates revolves around how much skin these folks should have in the game.
Retirees living on Social Security often pay no income tax, because much of Social Security is exempt. And Romney’s coalition skews substantially older than Obama’s. Even among the elderly poor – those earning less than $24k/year – Romney earns nearly half the vote in a recent Gallup poll. Given the margins of Romney’s support among the elderly, he should be earning a much larger percentage of middle-income elderly voters, who are also quite likely not to pay income tax.
Many young people also don’t pay income tax – because they are students or have very low incomes. But low-income individuals and students, who are disproportionately Obama voters, are also disproportionately non-voters. And Romney is earning about a third of the vote of the under-$24k/year set.
Finally, among middle-income working families, one of the big credits that can save you from paying income taxes is the child tax credit. I would assume, though I haven’t seen numbers, that the GOP is getting larger percentage of the large-family vote.
I’m still probably pushing it with my guess that more of Romney’s voters don’t pay income taxes than Obama voters, but it’s surely close. And what if we compared the average income tax rate paid by their respective voting coalitions? What do you think that would reveal?
Nonetheless, I am quite confident that the video of Romney writing off half the country as incorrigible parasites is not going to hurt his electoral prospects. That doesn’t mean I think he’s going to win – I think he’s going to lose, and deserves to lose, and there’s no way he’s getting my vote. But I don’t think this incident will make a difference at all.
How can he keep his coalition together with a message of dismissive contempt?
Easy: no Romney voter thinks he’s talking about them. And virtually nobody does a mental reality check because virtually nobody does a mental reality check on much easier-to-check numbers.
Half of Americans think we spend more than 10% of the budget on foreign aid, and more than 5% of the budget on public broadcasting. Half of Americans think more than one-in-five Americans is gay. Most people have absolutely no idea how numbers work, or what numbers are plausible as an answer to a whole host of questions. And, by the way, while more-educated people do better on these kinds of quizzes than less-educated people, they don’t do nearly as well as you’d expect.
Nobody inclined to vote Republican thinks Romney is talking about white retirees or families of six making $50k/year when he talks about people who won’t “take responsibility” for their lives. Romney is running on saving Medicare from Obama’s “raid,” increasing defense spending, and exempting more unearned income from taxation altogether. So his voters know he’s not talking about them. He’s talking about moochers and parasites.
And if the moochers and parasites are already 47% of the country, then we’re in worse shape than we thought. Better vote Romney!
There’s an obvious response for Obama to make, of course. Remember that masterful speech Bill Clinton gave at the convention? Did you notice how over and over again, he pointed out that Romney’s plans threatened government programs that benefit the middle class? The most telling was his point that Medicaid (which the Democrats expanded) pays out a lot of money for nursing care (a point where, I’ll note, his numbers were pretty wildly off from reality). His message to Romney’s share of the 47% was: Romney’s not just going after the moochers and the parasites. He’s going after you.
That’s a much more persuasive answer in tough economic times, I think, than saying Romney doesn’t care about half the country. “Caring” is what you do for people less-fortunate than yourself, and much of the country – very much including the Romney coalition – is feeling less-fortunate itself these days, justifiably or not. Ross Douthat is still pining for “compassionate conservatism,” but there’s a reason the GOP has turned his back on the part of the Bush legacy that is least-implicated in its largest failures. The American people are not feeling very compassionate right now.
I still think Romney’s is a losing message, and a losing campaign, but not because it is mean-spirited and contemptuous toward the poor. I think he’s got a losing message because he’s got nothing coherent to say about any national problem whatsoever. But if he did have a coherent answer to anything Americans actually care about, President Obama would be in a lot more trouble.