Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mitt Romney's 47%: A Low Estimate?

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

We all heard about it. Mitt Romney was secretly taped during a campaign event, where he said he wasn’t campaigning on behalf of the 47% of Americans who “paid no income taxes” and who are “dependent on Government”.  And we’ve seen the backlash- part of which involves pundits explaining that this percentage of the American people pay no income taxes mostly because they’ve already paid through the payroll tax system.  So we get it. Income tax or not, the vast majority of Americans pay their fair share of taxes.  But what about the logic behind the second half of that statement- that 47% of Americans are dependent on government and feel “entitled” to some sort of government assistance?  What Romney, and most of the proceeding news coverage, failed to mention was that the percentage of Americans who have benefited from a government-funded social policy is actually much larger than 47.

This article , titled “We are the 96%” and published today in the New York Times, summarizes a 2008 research survey by Cornell Survey Research Institute that found that 96 percent of Americans have taken advantage of some sort of social policy that was funded by the federal government. This is true across party lines- the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who benefitted from at least one policy was almost identical.  

Yet what differs is not actual benefit, but ideology.  The article notes, “conservatives were less likely than liberals to respond affirmatively when asked if they had ever used a ‘government social program,’ even when both subsequently acknowledged using the same number of specific policies.”

And it is this division in what each party thinks the role of government should be that causes some of the vitriolic rhetoric that courses through both Presidential campaigns. The illustration of one party of “makers” and another of “takers” is a popular one.  Yet the research shows that most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are both.  We all pay in; we all take out.  Perhaps if we all took that fact to heart, we could begin to come together to create policies that lead to the most collective benefit. 

The article’s authors, Suzanne Mettler and John Sides, say it best [emphasis added]- “Instead of dividing us, our experiences as both makers and takers ought to bind us in a community of shared sacrifice and mutual support.”

Head here to read the full article.  

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