Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” problem — in 2 maps

September 18, 2012

The biggest assumption made in Mitt Romney's controversial comments from a May fundraiser is that lower-income people -- the 47 percent who pay no federal income tax by his calculation -- simply won't be voting for him on Nov. 6.

While exit polling shows that President Obama won 60 percent of the vote of families making between $15,000 and $29,999 and 55 percent of the vote of those making between $30,000 and $49,999 in 2008, there are lots (and lots) of potential Romney voters who would fall into his description of the "47 percent".

An analysis by Fix friend Dante Chinni, who runs the amazing "Patchwork Nation" website, proves this point well -- in 2 maps.

The first lays out median income in the United States as of 2010 (the darker the green, the higher the income):

The second details President Obama's vote totals in 2008 (the darker the purple, the more votes Obama won):

The overlay of the two maps is striking. With notable exceptions -- heavily Hispanic south Texas being one -- the higher the median income, the higher the vote for President Obama in 2008.

As Chinni concludes:

[Romney's] argument that poorer people tend to vote Democratic, while wealthier people tend to vote Republican out of economic interest ignores key motivating factors that Patchwork Nation has studied for years and that campaigns use to their advantage – sociocultural issues like abortion rights, gay rights, gun rights and the role of religious faith in general.....If voters in these places voted purely along economic lines, they might go Democratic on Election Day. But as we have heard on our talks with people in these communities, values matter.

Simply put: Romney's assessment of an electorate motivated entirely by their relative economic status badly misses the impact that other issues -- social ones in particular -- have on the electorate. Assuming that anyone who doesn't pay income taxes must, by necessity, be an Obama voter is a major strategic oversight by Romney that, if not corrected, will cost him the election.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | September 18, 2012