On May 17, 2012, Republican presidential candidate, Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), said something that was later cited as one of the factors that caused him to lose the election to his Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama.
It’s among the most damaging political gaffes ever uttered.
Romney was speaking to a group of wealthy Republican donors at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida.
At one point, he started talking about people who pay no taxes. And, he wasn’t referring to the rich people and corporations who find ways to avoid paying taxes and are usually Republican supporters.
He was talking about people whose incomes are so low they pay no federal income taxes and receive various types of assistance from the federal government.
In his list of the most notable quotes of 2012, Shapiro used this shortened version of what Romney said:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims…These are people who pay no income tax…and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
When reports of what Romney said came to light, the 47 percent number and Romney’s suggestion that he didn’t care about nearly half of all Americans created a media firestorm.
But that firestorm didn’t happen immediately. The May 17th fundraiser was closed to the press.
News about Romney’s 47 percent quote didn’t hit the news until September 17, 2012 when a video secretly recorded on a smartphone by a bartender who was working at the fundraiser was released by Mother Jones magazine.
Here’s a longer portion of Romney’s 47 percent comments, transcribed from the video, which you can watch on YouTube by clicking this link or the image below.
"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. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, he starts off with a huge number.
These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not."
Predictably, Republicans and right-leaning political commentators defended Romney and said his comments were essentially true.
And, naturally, Democrats and left-leaning commentators attacked him for his apparent uncaring attitude toward millions of Americans.
They also noted there were the factual errors in what he said. For example, not all of the 47 percent of Americans who have incomes so low they pay no federal income taxes are on “welfare” and not all consistently vote Democratic.
You can read “fact checks” from both sides about the substance of what Romney said in various articles and opinion pieces at this link.
I read Romney’s comments as being, in part, a candid reflection of common campaign strategy. In political campaigns, it makes sense to focus on persuadable “swing voters” who might vote either way and avoid wasting resources trying to convince voters who are part of the hard core base of your opponent.
Regardless, as is often the case in politics, the “facts” and “truth” didn’t matter.
Mitt’s 47 percent gaffe made him seem like he didn’t care about poor and working class voters and was dissing them to a group of rich fat cats he wanted donations from.
That impression helped convince many of the swing voters he wanted to vote for him to vote for President Obama instead. On election day, Obama won the electoral vote by a wide margin: 332 to 206. He had a smaller margin in the nationwide popular vote.
Ironically, 47% of the popular vote was for Romney.
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