The Data Behind Romney’s 47% Comments

Damian Paletta and John McKinnon, Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2012

In his comments to fundraisers captured on video, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said 47% of Americans would almost automatically vote for President Barack Obama because they were “dependent” on the government, in part because they received government benefits and paid no federal income taxes.

In a press conference late Monday, Mr. Romney said his comments were “not elegantly stated” while at the same time reiterating the main point. Our translation: If you don’t pay federal income taxes, you may not be swayed by a candidate that wants to cut them.

Here’s a rundown of the data behind Mr. Romney’s argument, some of which he correctly stated and other parts of which don’t hold up so well.


According to the Census Bureau, 49% of Americans in the second quarter of 2011 lived in a household where at least one member received a government benefit. (The total population at the time was 305 million).

That’s up from 30% in the 1980s and 44.4% in the third quarter of 2008, a recent growth in part attributable to the bad economy of President Obama’s first term.

The Census Bureau broke the data down like this:

  • 26.4% of U.S. households had someone enrolled in Medicaid (the health-care program for low-income Americans)
  • 16.2% of households had at least one member receiving Social Security.
  • 15.8% lived in a household receiving food stamps
  • 14.9% had a member with Medicare benefits
  • 4.5% of households received assistance with their rent
  • 1.7% had a member receiving unemployment benefits.

The large majority of Medicare and Social Security recipients have paid payroll taxes in many cases for decades to qualify for those benefits.


Mr. Romney implied that anyone receiving government benefits wouldn’t likely be one of his voters. But there’s no clear partisan split among beneficiaries, especially for broad-based federal retirement and health-care programs.


Mr. Romney correctly noted that nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax. Who are all these people? And how did we get here?

Here’s a quick answer. Roughly half of U.S. households that pay no federal income tax are exempted because of basic provisions such as limitations on tax for low-income earners, according to a 2011 study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The other half benefit from targeted breaks (known to tax geeks as “tax expenditures”), such as assistance for the working poor and for children in moderate-income families. Seniors also benefit from some of these targeted breaks.


The TPC found that of the 38 million households that are made nontaxable by tax expenditures, “44% are moved off the tax rolls by elderly tax benefits and another 30% by credits for children and the working poor.”

So how did we get to the point where almost half of American households pay no income tax? Since the 1970s, Congress and successive presidents have begun creating more and more tax breaks to benefit broad swaths of the population (and some very narrow gauges too). Democrats generally have been more supportive of the particular breaks that push people off the income-tax rolls, but Republicans have supported a few too, and they also have pushed breaks that benefit higher-income people.


The real partisan division has come over the growing number of other breaks, particularly those for children and for the working poor. Democrats in the 1970s pushed through the first and still arguably the most important of these, the Earned Income Tax Credit. Essentially, it’s an income supplement for the working poor, and can provide several thousand dollars in extra cash each year for a typical eligible family.

Over the years it’s been significantly expanded, most recently in the 2009 stimulus bill. While Republicans generally have been supportive of the EITC in practice, they have opposed several of the expansions and also are concerned about relatively high levels of erroneous payments under the highly complex EITC rules.


Republicans, however, did help push through another big break—the child credit. It’s been aimed at helping moderate-income families, including one-earner couples, afford to have kids. Like the EITC, it’s a “refundable” credit—meaning that it is paid to eligible taxpayers even when their tax liability has been erased. Democrats have pushed to make it more broadly available to lower-income people, often over GOP objections.

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  • jedsrael

    47% is much too low for permanent, non assailable Diversity majority.

    Open borders and total Amnesty will solve that threat.

    White Privilege, RIP.

  • Puggg
  • IstvanIN

    He’s right.

  • WmarkW

    This is the death spiral of no return — more net tax dependents than tax payers.

    The Founding Fathers conceived of the latter as the only electorate bloc that should count.
    They could hardly have fathomed a  major political party organized around directing transfers to the former.

  • KD_Did

    I am not a huge Romney supporter but,   He needs to stick to it. It may be the clearest and most honest thing I’ve heard him say. Obama has given up the white male vote. At least Romney is admitting that he cannot win a certain percentage of voters with the traditional Republican creed of lower taxes and less government. What I continue to worry about is the white females who are buying the completely false narrative  of the “war on women”   I still say white woman can win this election for Romney.

    • Puggg

      I read a fair number of blogs, and one problem that a lot of rightists have with his comments is that he falls prey to the notion that only a small percentage of all voters decide elections. Of course that’s the case, and the reason that’s the case is because politicians believe it, they tune their campaigns around these “independents,” and therefore, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      I also agree that a fair chunk of the 47% can be made to swing out of Obama’s tent.

      War on women is leftist propaganda, mainly to keep young single white women from defecting.

      • And I’m one of them. The part I knew that people would focus on is the part about the 47%, but the part that jumped out at me was this bit about how he said that 5-7% of Indies decide the whole shootin’ match and his campaign is aimed squarely at them.  The only other person who noticed this was the talk radio host who sounds like Groucho Marx’s grandmother after a hysterectomy, but I don’t want to give him credit for anything because he’s in my dog house for life.

        The reason I grind is that the only reason small slivers of the electorate actually do decide the outcome is, like you said, the nature of what you term the self-fulfilling prophecy. We go through this every four years:  The media go ooga booga hoo haw ook ook eek eek scree scree over a nice constituency that they say gets to determine the outcome.  In 1996, it was soccer moms.  In 2004, it was Nascar Dads.  This year, it was supposed to be “Triangle Techies,” the some 45,000 individuals who make $75,000 or more a year and who work in tech or related fields in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, based on the notion that NC was the swing state and therefore those people were the swing voters in the swing state. The reason that went out the window is that Romney will win NC fairly handily. So far, I have not yet heard the lizards of smart come up with another whiz-bang decide-it-all niche group.

        It frustrates me because I don’t believe most white people’s votes are set in stone.  Sure, you can carve virtually all blacks and two-thirds of Hispanics voting Dem in stone, too about 10% of gentile whites for Democrats for some personal concern (public employee, fluke voting, single issue left winger, e.g.) — Hell, 10% of whites in Mississippi vote Democrat.  But most white people’s votes are really in play.  I personally think this obsession with niche constituencies is a concerted effort to prevent white racial solidarity in voting.

    • Don’t worry, we know there is no war on women. I’m more conservative than my husband.

  • Defiant White

    Basically, a pretty stupid comment for Romney to make.  The 47% includes Republicans on social security, Republicans on Medicaire and even unemployed Republicans.

    Now, if he had said 95% of negroes . . . or 95% of white libs  . . . or 95% of mexicans will vote for Obama, then that would be a different story. 

    But that would be rassisst of him to say what we all know to be true.

    I think the point he was trying to make is that these campaigns are each targetting a small percentage of voters (6-8%).  Everyone else has their minds made up and can’t be bothered with facts.

    • jedsrael

      Chris Matthews: Romney Thinking He Could Beat Obama Was “An Arrogant Point of View”

      Chris Matthews: Romney Thinking He Could Beat Obama Was “A Racist Unearned White Privilege Poin of View”

    • NM156

      Romney isn’t talking about those collecting benefits they’ve earned.

      • Xerxes

        Unfortunately, a lot of Republicans don’t believe there is any difference between the two groups. Anyone who isn’t rich enough to pay taxes is a leech.

    • tickyul

      Yup, I think this just about sinks Romney.

      The fact is, his campaign did not take off with much steam…….and it is obviously getting weaker and weaker.

    • Red

      Romney called out a party of parasites for being… a party of parasites. So what? If he keeps talking like that I may even vote for him.

  • bubo

    My parents both get Social Security, which they paid into for more than 40 years, and on which income they are taxed every year.  

    Romney should have just spoke about Section 8, free lunch, WIC checks etc.  We would have known what he meant.  

  • “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”  … “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.” 

    ― Alexis de Tocqueville 

    • The__Bobster

      Solution: Net takers lose their franchise.

  • This is far stupider than what Akin said about rape.    Mitt’s campaign is sunk.  

    The other interesting thing about this comment is that it belies Romney’s belief that Republicanism is devoid of content, except for economics.  They might as well call it the “US Taxpayers Party”. 

    This leaves the door wide open for a third political party to form, one that believes in something other than dreary Randian economics.

    • NM156

      What’s not stupid about the $10,000 a family can claim in Earned Income Tax Credits, which has nothing to do with returned earned taxes, and child credits, which are also given to those who pay no income taxes? I have households on my block with earnings close to mine that take in $20K of govt. assistance while paying 1/3 of the taxes that I do. These are Federal breeding programs for single mothers.

    • Ahem.

  • Ulick

    The Libs in my Facebook newsfeed were acting today like Romney was just caught raping a child and beating up an elderly lady. (Coincidentally, crimes we often read about here with no reaction from Libs.)

    Their over-the-top reaction proved to me that their’s a lot of truth to the old adage: “You want to annoy a Conservative, tell a lie. You want to annoy a Liberal, tell the truth.”

    • anonymous_amren

      I liked this comment, but it must be said that Conservatives are no lovers of truth, especially when the truth says something bad about something they want to conserve, like Christianity, or anything they like doing that isn’t environmentally sustainable.

      • Sherman_McCoy

        Christianity is fine.  Not egalitarian nonsense spewed from the pukepits these days.

      • bluffcreek1967

        I disagree. Conservatives generally love the truth and try to be realistic about the world and human nature. Granted, maybe not each and every one of them, but certainly a large percentage. Also, conservatives have not been as close-minded regarding Christianity as the MSM tries to portray them. Conservative Christians, in fact, have been on the frontlines answering with facts the polemics of atheists and liberal professors for decades. They do not stick their heads in the sand as assumed by many misinformed persons. As far as environmental issues, conservatives have opposed much that’s done in the name of ‘environmentalism’ because of its dubious science and its obvious world-wide liberal agenda.

    • Detroit_WASP

      Meanwhile, related news out of Detroit:

  • potato78

    No Matter What, both parties have been doing a significant/wonderful detrimental job to the Super Mighty Power US and white people.

    #1. US has adsorbed magnificent illegal immigrants in the world by comparison with other countries.
    #2. They may keep doing this because US has democratic system.  Illegal immigrants will eventually become legal, then these legal immigrants can be recruited by both parties. 
    #3. 1% rich theory is that always minority become rich, and majority will stay poor in the number of illegal immigrants.  I believe that Democratic party will always recruit more people than republican party.  In future that can been seen, dem party will win this election, next, next, until republican party starts to recruit more and more poor people, by then republican party may have a chance to win.
    #3. Both parties have to realize this: stop illegal immigrants, which should be 1# priority.  Ask illegal immigrants stay in line for a reentry to US.
    #4. Reduce regulations and taxation for all industries to make US become more competitive to the world market and to attract more investments from the world.
    #5. Ask Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, Scandinavia Region, etc, to accept more and more illegal immigrants from the third world countries.

  • Local_Ale

    Just a reminder, that Romney supported TARP that probably benefited a good number of folks in the room he was speaking too.  TARP was just another welfare state benefit, which is why the wealthy love socialism.

    TARP propped up the elite we know and loathe (I mean love), so lets not get all squishy on this fabricated class warfare thing.   Both groups hate us.

    • Sherman_McCoy

      And the feeling is mutual.  Hatred is EXACTLY the right thing to feel for those who seek to exterminate us.

  • B

    The red states have a greater percentage of public assistance and I believe South Carolina gets the most per capita.

    • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

      “The red states have a greater percentage of public assistance and I believe South Carolina gets the most per capita.”


      Of course.  The red states have a much higher percentage of blacks (28.1 percent for South Carolina, for example, versus 13.1 percent nationwide).  Bluest of blue states, Massachusetts, is 7.8 percent black.  Such stats are highly predictable of political coloration.  

    • Puggg

       See the article I linked to above.  E Pluribus below just provided the answer to that, too.

  • RisingReich

    My what a difference a day makes.  Romney let some truth seep out of his mouth.  Thought it would never happen.

    Does he understand who this 47% are, largely, and does he understand, really, that he has no hope of getting their vote?

    If what he said yesterday is any indication, the answer is NO.

    This saga gets more interesting with every passing day.  I literally can’t wait to get on the net after work to see what happened and who’s talking.

    I think this is a pivotal point in this election.  Romney will either double down and not apologize and ratchet up the rhetoric showing the country he has some balls, or (more likely) will eventually capitulate and be slaughtered.

    Either this lousy campaign just improved, or it just died.  It’s up to him and his ‘handlers’. 

    • KD_Did

      unfortunately, he seems to be back peddling already. We”ll see

      • While he didn’t actually apologize, he did try to explain what he really meant.
        This was a bad move. He put himself on the defensive and gave the left more ammunition against him. He should have let his comments stand and asked for a public debate on issue of who isn’t paying their taxes be they the rich (who are using tax laws to protect their money) or government freeloaders.
        You can’t solve a problem until you can discuss it honestly.

        • Red

          The rub there is that we’re not allowed to discuss any of our real problems honestly. Which is why they keep getting worse. Anything that’s an actual problem isn’t fit to be mentioned in polite company.

      • RisingReich

         Didn’t even take him a whole day?
        Put a fork in him, he’s done.
        Hopefully the Republican party is also toast.  Really needs to happen.
        A despicable lot they are.

  • The way I heard the comments, Gov. Rommney was saying that there are some people out there who don’t and won’t take personal responsibility for their lives which is true. No matter what Gov. Rommney says or how he frames the debate, these people won’t care about his message, there is no convincing them, and it’s a waste of his time to even try to reason with them. He’s right to ‘ignore’ them because they have totally written him off.

    You can’t help people who won’t help themselves.

  • Sam

    It’s really 49 percent pay no federal taxes.  Of course the libs all holler they pay payroll taxes. Well so do the other 51 percent on top of federal taxes.

  • Andrew Lloyd

    Even knowing all of this, the asinine fool supports bringing in more third world immigrants, knowing that they will be majority low income welfare-takers, and thus solid democrats.  This ass is just insufferable.

  • 1911ThePunisher45

    He’s a coward, and a troll.

    • jedsrael

      I’m a coward because I won’t post my name where the SPLC lurks.  Why give them something to use against me with my boss?  Look what they tried to do to Kevin MacDonald.  He’s not a coward, but he has tenure and is not typical.

      Whitey cowards get to keep their jobs just a bit longer than courageous Odinists.

    • Bad_Mr_Frosty

      Jed is more devoted to the cause than anyone else on this board.

  • Triarius

    Very similar to “white countries for everyone”, “anti-racist is codeword for anti-white”, and “geNOcide”.

    Agreed. All are counter-productive at this point. IMO, even acknowledging that the phrase “white privilage” exists gives them what they want, homefield advantage. That way they can use it to argue against you, since you know what it is and that it is out there. It does not matter if you were being sarcastic or not.

  • jedsrael

    Then what term should I use to describe what they’ve stolen from me?

    “Cultural dominance” won’t work, because I’ve never dominated anything.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    That 47% of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes and are dependent on government is damning —  and a winning issue for Romney.  He even has the lefty media helping him to spread the word far and wide.

    The “off the cuff” statement looks weak.  Romney needs to stop apologizing and/or making excuses and start hitting hard, right now — just like his cutthroat opposition.

    Romney should play right into the msm’s “offended” stance, dare them to prove him wrong and say:  

    Damn right I said it and I’m sticking by it!!

    (but Romney better hurry before 0bama turns that 47% into 51%).


  • rightrightright

    No representation without taxation.   If you are old, you’ve paid enough tax while you were younger, so you vote.  If you are too disabled to work, you vote.   

    If you live your life as a child, dependent on the tax of others, you don’t vote.   Children don’t vote.

  • potato78

    Which part should we cut:

    There are many misperception about where the money goes.
    Many think poor people took the money. If the poor people took this much
    money, they wouldn’t be poor any more. Let me show some data here:

    – defense: 24%?

    – Pension (social security): 22%?

    – Health care (Medicare and Medicaid): 22%?

    – Welfare: 12%?

    Only the 12% welfare and some in health care (Medicaid is much smaller than Medicare) can be considered wealth transfer.

    How much can we cut in welfare?

    Also, someone wants to increase the defense spending!

    The link is at:


    • Sherman_McCoy

      How much would it cost to stop trying to build our hegemony and just put the troops on the Southern border?  I figure we could save a bundle if we got out of Muslim lands and ejected all the immigrants from those lands.  We would save considerably on Homeland Security expenses if we removed the outsiders from our country.  If you REALLY want to cut down on costs, repatriate the Africans back to Africa.  Replace the income tax with tariffs (as it used to be) and we’d solve just about every other problem.  Sign a treaty with other white countries and be done with “defense.”

    • NM156

      These “poor” people did take much of the money. Unearned tax credits cost hundreds of billions. Poor, urban public school districts coast-to-coast have received hundreds of billions also in the past decade in the form of Federal aid to states for school expansion and remediation. Medicaid is far bigger than you let on. Where’s the accounting for the trillion-dollar stimulus money handed out to states for make-work welfare for state expenditures and for states’ own welfare programs? When these poor people pay nothing in taxes and their numbers are increasing, largely because of immigration and deindustrialization, those small numbers are too big for the middle class, still hanging on, to be responsible for. Who but a GOP Inc. nutjob would want anything but major cuts in defense? I often wondered why Dems support every budget increase for defense. The only conclusion I can reach is that it too is a form of redistribution for their low-income constituents. What would millions of kids unable to find work out of high school, kids not bound for college, do without the US Military?

  • Bad_Mr_Frosty

    Call it “White Virtue” or “White Juju” or “The Blessed European Genetic Endowment”. Call it whatever you want, but it all points to the same thing. You can’t have an egalitarian society where one group constantly outperforms the rest. Since you can’t bring the rest up, you bring the “privileged” ones down. 

    Unlike government paid “community activists,” Jed is a real-life expert on White Privilege. 

  • Ed_NY

    The same can be said for “reverse discrimination”.  Discrimination is discrimination! By saying “reverse discrimination” we are saying that discrimination is something that Whites practice to the exclusion of most others.

  • Ed_NY

    I started collecting social security earlier this year.  Over my working life, my employers and I have paid several hundred thousand dollars in social security and medicare taxes on my behalf.  If social security was all I had to live on I would be in a world of hurt.  I earned a pension, saved, invested and built a successful business.  My wife and I paid more in combined federal, state, social security, county, town, school and sales taxes then most people earned last year.  My tax bill for this year will be mind staggering because I sold my business.  I never collected unemployment, welfare, medicaid, food stamps, financial aid, free lunches or day care for my kids.  Both of my kids are in college and they receive no financial aid.  I pay half their tuition and they pay the other half.  My daughter was awarded a scholarship for her academic achievments which covers about 20% of her tuition.   I worked plenty of menial minimum wage jobs.  I earned everything I have.  I am successful.  If Obama has his way, he will take it all away and redistribute it to the dumb and lazy.  I did well for myself because of the decisions and the sacrifices that I made.  Was it white privilege?  Absolutely not!  I had to compete against minority set asides.  I had to finance my own business.  There were no grants or low interest loans as minority businesses received.  It was not a level playing field.  The deck was stacked against me but I still succeeded.  While working for the State of New York, minorities were hired and promoted without regard to their lack of ability.  Again the deck was stacked against me and I was held to a higher standard but I still succeeded.

    Sorry that I drifted off topic and went on a rant.  My point is everyone should earn what they receive and everyone should pay taxes.  Hard work is penalized and laziness and incompetence is rewarded.  Government handouts, set asides, preferences and all of the other pork should be eliminated.  I know it will never happen and thats why this country is doomed to failure.

  • In a way, Republicans only have themselves to blame for this situation. The more they change the tax code to exempt more and more people from Federal income tax liability, the more voters won’t have taxes as an issue during election season. Thanks to Bush, the EITC has been expanded so generously that I might qualify for it – I might be joking, but then again, I might not.

    As a matter of principle, anyone who works for anything more than mere peanuts ought to have a positive FIT liability, even if it’s only a very small percentage.

  • I’m going to head this foolishness off at the pass before someone is dumb enough to believe it.

    There is no law in terms of “x U.S.C. x” that requires it, but the mandate exists in regulatory code.  Most detailed quasi-legislation of the Federal government doesn’t exist on the statutory level, it exists on the regulatory level and one level further down, the sum total of Records of Decision.

    Congress often deals with a subject by creating an executive bureaucracy and letting it handle the nuts and bolts.  For instance, a given radio station can only use so much power.  There is no law stating that they must, but there is regulatory code stating that the Federal government has the power to license radio stations and set their transmitted power, and then each radio station has a Record of Decision for its individual permit and the parameters therein. About radio, all the law at x U.S.C. x level basically states is that “there’s this thing called radio, we’re politicians who don’t have the expertise, so we’re creating something called FCC who will deal with all that.”

    With taxes, it’s a little different, because of the politics of the tax issue. Often, marginal income tax rates and specific line item deductions and tax credits are set at law by Congress on the x U.S.C. x level, and that obviously overrides regulatory code. But that puts a fly in your ointment of “no income tax law,” because Congress does set the FIT rates for the income brackets.

    As an aside, this is why Presidential executive orders have come to the point to where they’re de facto legislation.  Because Congress offloads so much of its authority on Executive-level agencies, that a Presidential EO that theoretically affects only the executive branch de facto affects the entire workings of Federal policy.  That has to be fixed.

  • Another irony:  This video comes from Mother Jones magazine, a San Francisco left wing publication.  Its namesake is Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who organized the first coal miners unions in America.  Most of the people who work and write for and read Mother Jones would die if they had to do a good hard day of physical work like coal mining, and also, I’m sure like almost all doctrinaire left-wingers, Mother Jones is against coal.

  • Ray

    20 years from now, 70% of people will be paying no taxes and will always have the government watching our every move, thanks to big brother thugs like the FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, and Shield, lol, ok maybe not the last one, but you know what I mean.

    • Puggg

      If 70% of the people in America 2032 aren’t paying any taxes, then you won’t have to worry about the surveillance state because the Federal government won’t  be able to afford it, and even if they could, the politicians of America 2032 (aka Mexico + Africa) wouldn’t want a surveillance state because they wouldn’t want the world to see Mexican and African criminality.

  • David Ashton

      Best comment yet.  Obama will not rescue the USA from getting into the predicament England – and Carlyle’s Scotland – now find themselves in: astronomical and increasing government debt, huge welfare dependency, ethnic competition for white-created resources, and a massive state sector with a declining military and scientific percentage. 
      Forget his gaffes and put Obama’s opponent into the White House.

  • On some economics issues, maybe.  But racially, MJ is the second most abhorrent magazine in America today.  First place goes to National Review.