WSJ- 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.
There can be a lot of overlap in which programs benefit certain households. For example, millions of people receiving Social Security benefits also receive Medicare health benefits. Many Americans covered by Medicaid are also receiving food stamp 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.