FACT-CHECKING: Romney’s Right — and He’s Wrong

  • By David M. Kinchen 
Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

I’d be willing to bet than more people have seen the Mitt Romney “47 percent” video or have heard about it than all the so-called anti-Muslim movies and cartoons combined, if only because the mainstream media has seen fit to publicize it — and declines to publicize anything smacking of Islamophobia. Here’s the ABC News version:http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/mitt-romney-boca-raton-fundraising-video-candidates-inelegant-17260212.

Mother Jones, a left-wing publication, has just released the full video, in two parts, recorded last May at the Boca Raton, FL home of equity fund manager and Philadephia 76ers owner Marc Leder:

According to news reporter, Leder, who co-founded private equity firm Sun Capital Partners in 1999, declined to comment specifically on Romney’s suggestion that the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax don’t take “personal responsibility and care for their lives.” A spokesman said it wasn’t Leder’s place to get into the details, as he is a private businessman who isn’t running for office.


Leder hosted the $50,000 per person dinner at his Boca Raton home in May for between 40 and 50 people. It followed an earlier Romney event for a few hundred people at a nearby country club, and was the third time that Leder had hosted a Romney dinner in his home (the first one being in 2004).


Is Romney right, that the 47 percent of the people who don’t pay income taxes think of themselves as victims and depend on the government aren’t his concern and won’t vote for him? It’s probably not true about the latter, since many of them don’t consider as “entitlements” the Medicare they pay for at the rate of $96 per month in premiums or the Social Security benefits they receive that they paid for with hefty payroll taxes for decades of work. Payroll taxes are hugely regressive, and are capped at an income of $110,100 per year (2012 figures).

So is Romney right, that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax? If he’s right, why is he attacking his base, which consists of people on Medicare and Social Security?

CBS News fact checked the statement (link to video: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57515033-503544/fact-checking-romneys-47-percent-comment/):

The Quote “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. … [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.”

True or false? Much of Romney’s statement relies on assumptions about one demographic: The 47 percent of Americans who he says “pay no income tax.” So is it true that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income tax? Essentially, yes, according to the the Tax Policy Center, which provides data showing that in 2011, 46.4 percent of American households paid no federal income tax. The same data shows, however, that nearly two-thirds of households that paid no income tax did pay payroll taxes. And most people also pay some combination of state, local, sales, gas and property taxes.

In order to assess whether or not, as Romney claims, these non-income tax payers “will vote for the president no matter what,” it’s helpful to look at a breakdown of who they are. According to2011 data from the Tax Policy Center, more than half of the filing units not paying income taxes are those with incomes less than $16,812 per year. Nearly a third – 29.2 percent – of those paying no income taxes are tax filers earning between $16,812 and $33,542, and 12.8 percent are those with incomes between $33,542 and $59,486. In other words, the poor are least likely to pay federal income taxes, but many middle-class families are also exempt. Smaller but significant numbers of the higher-income earners are also exempt: The same data shows that in 2011, 78,000 tax filers with incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 paid no income taxes; 24,000 households with incomes of $533,000 to $2.2 million paid no income taxes, and 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2.2 million paid no income taxes.

Overall, according to the Tax Policy Center, “of the 38 million tax units made nontaxable by the addition of tax expenditures, 44 percent are moved off the tax rolls by elderly tax benefits and another 30 percent by credits for children and the working poor.”

Moreover, only 18.1 percent of American households paid neither federal income taxes nor payroll taxes in 2011, says the Tax Policy Center. Of that 18.1 percent, 10.3 percent were elderly and 6.9 percent were non-elderly households earning less than $20,000 year, which include low-income families and students. About one in 20 is non-elderly with income over $20,000.

At least one of the demographics that is less likely to pay income taxes (or income and payroll taxes) tends to vote Republican: In 2008, voters 65 and over voted for Republican nominee John McCain over President Obama 53 percent to 45 percent, an eight-point margin. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll also shows Romney winning the support of these voters nationally: 53 percent of voters 65 and older support Romney and 38 percent support Mr. Obama.

Voters in households with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year tend to favor Mr. Obama, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, with 61 percent supporting the president and 32 percent supporting Romney. The president’s margin narrows significantly when only white voters in this income group are sampled: Among white voters earning less than $30,000, 52 percent supported Mr. Obama and 40 percent supported Romney. The race is even tighter when you look at white voters with household incomes under $50,000. Forty-six percent of those voters say they support Mr. Obama, and 47 percent support Romney, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll.

Additionally, according to 2008 data from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, eight of the top 10 states with the lowest income tax liability are Republican-leaning states. The other two are Florida, a battleground state, and New Mexico, which CBS News rates as likely Obama territory.”


* * *


Loose Lips Sink Ships — but will they sink Romney/Ryan? Probably not with this slip alone, but we who receive benefits that we’ve paid for — or in the case of Medicare, that we’re paying for with monthly premiums deducted from our Social Security checks — don’t like to be called victims or beggars thinking “we’re entitled” to anything. We are entitled to what we’ve earned. Just as people are entitled to pensions paid for while they were in the active work force, or annuity insurance benefits, etc. Both Republicans and Democrats should never forget that and remember that senior citizens (I hate those two words!) vote more than just about any other demographic.


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