Wonkbook: The ’47 percent’ by the numbers

September 19, 2012

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RCP Obama vs. RomneyObama +2.6%; 7-day change: Obama +0.8%.

RCP Obama approval49.2%; 7-day change: none.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win68.0%; 7-day change: +9.9%.

Top story: Fallout from Romney's '47 percent' remarks

Obama camp makes first move on '47 percent' with web video. "President Obama’s campaign has released an online video in response to Mitt Romney’s '47 percent' comment. The video features individuals reacting to the Republican’s remarks at a private fundraiser, which have seized national attention...Video of Romney saying that 47 percent of the electorate believes 'that they are victims' and will vote for Obama 'no matter what,' is played for several individuals. After reviewing the remarks, each offers a negative assessment. " Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Watch: The Obama ad.

Map explainer: The geographic distribution of the '47 percent'.

Tax explainer: Who does and doesn't pay taxes in eight charts.

Benefits explainer: Who receives government benefits, in six charts.

Romney's likely to get 95 electoral votes from the top "moocher" states. Obama can only count on 5: "Three of the states with the lowest number of non-filers are solidly conservative: Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming. Two, New Hampshire and Virginia, are swing states. All the rest are solidly Democratic, including half of New England. All told, Obama gets 50 electoral votes from the “maker” states to Romney’s 9 — 17 are tossups — while Romney gets 96 electoral votes from the “taker” states to Obama’s 5, with 29 as tossups." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

@fivethirtyeight: In other words: not sure that 47% will give Obama much immediate help in polls. But could lower Romney's ceiling.

How do the '47 percent' vote? Republican, as it turns out. "Mitt Romney asserted that the 47 percent of Americans who had no federal income tax liability would 'vote for the president no matter what.' Actually, a lot them don’t vote, and of those who do, many vote Republican....In 2008, when voter turnout rates were at or around record highs, fewer than half (44.9 percent) of adults in households making less than $30,000 per year voted, according to Census Bureau data. And of those who did vote, a substantial chunk voted for John McCain, the Republican candidate: 25 percent of those making under $15,000, and 37 percent of those making $15,000 to $30,000...Older Americans vote in very high numbers. In 2008, 70.2 percent of people over age 65 voted, according to the Census Bureau. And in that election, older voters supported John McCain over President Obama by an eight-percentage-point margin, with 53 percent voting for Mr. McCain. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted last week, showed likely voters in the same age group supporting Mr. Romney by a 15-point margin." Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.

Why conservatives should like the 47 percent's tax breaks "Why don’t 47 percent of Americans pay federal income taxes? One major reason: Tax credits that were passed with major bipartisan support -- namely the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And there’s a wealth of research showing that both of these tax breaks have been effective at lifting these Americans out of poverty and encourage them to move from welfare to work...The Earned Income Tax Credit, in particular, was created to encourage low-income people to work, diverting government resources from handouts toward incentives built into the tax code...There’s significant evidence that it’s been successful in doing so...What’s more, the EITC has also been an effective stepping stone from low-wage to higher-paid work." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@Noahpinion: Don't know why everyone is treating Romney's "gaffe" as a big deal, it's identical to what GOP has been saying for decades.

Income is not a good guide to class: "Something that I think you see in the 47 percent data is that annual income is actually a pretty poor guide to the American class structure because there are so many life-cycle effects. Common sense has it that a man pulling down $85,000 a year doesn't suddenly stop being middle class and become a poor person if he retires at 67 and starts collecting Social Security and Medicare and living off savings. What he's done is retire. And by the same token, a man earning $85,000 a year on his 60th birthday and looking forward to retirement is in a very different economic position from someone earning $85,000 a year on his 30th birthday and looking forward to some raises...Tax policy is bound to be about income, but I think it makes more sense to try to go back to the older meaning of class as a social phenomenon. If you have a low income because you're currently attending Harvard Law School, that's not the same as being poor." Matt Yglesias in Slate.

The who behind the video: Frmr. Pres. Jimmy Carter's grandson. "Midway through a routine Internet search, James Carter IV stumbled upon a video that just didn’t seem right. The grandson of former President Jimmy Carter and a self-fashioned Democratic opposition researcher, the younger Carter had watched countless hours of footage of Republican Mitt Romney and made it a habit to search YouTube every few days for keywords like 'Romney' and 'Republicans.'...Carter persuaded the source to trust [Mother Jones journalist David] Corn with the full video -- on the condition that he keep the source’s identity a secret. Corn ran with it, using clues in the video to triangulate when and where it had been recorded...'James: This is extraordinary. Congratulations! Papa,' the former president told his grandson Tuesday morning in an email obtained by the AP." The Associated Press.

@bdomenech: If Romney loses, it will not be because of the 47% comment or Todd Akin or any of this. It will be because people don't like him.

KLEIN: What Romney doesn't get about personal responsibility."The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier. That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

@pourmecoffee: President Romney will issue every American huge M or T badges to wear so we can tell who is a Maker and who is a Taker.

Romney's problem is his severe conservatism. "The big surprise at this point in the election is not that Mitt Romney is turning out to be such a bad candidate. His weaknesses were always well known, and even now, they’re likely overstated. He’s proven an able campaigner, an extraordinary fundraiser, and more than capable of uniting his party. But if he is, in some ways, a better candidate than many expected, he’s also proving to be a much more conservative candidate than anyone expected...[I]n terms of the recent comments and decisions that have gotten him in trouble, some of them are campaign missteps, but most of them are an unexpectedly doctrinaire application of the conservative worldview -- the sort of stuff that gets a standing ovation at CPAC, but that gets Republicans into trouble among more general audiences. Romney’s sentiments on the 47 percent, for instance, are almost as common among conservatives as “don’t tread on me” bumper stickers." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

And, for a man who passed the nation's first health care entitlement, the remarks are strikingly incongrous. "The most ironic wrinkle in Mitt Romney’s scorching comments about the 47 percent of Americans 'who believe that they are entitled to health care' is that there are exactly two American politicians who have actually signed an entitlement to health care into law: President Obama, and Gov. Mitt Romney...And so the guy who actually made health coverage a government guarantee in Massachusetts is criticizing the mindset that health care should be a government guarantee in general. It’s odd." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Romney is blowing the race, some Republicans say. "Republicans are worried that Mitt Romney is blowing a presidential race he should be winning, following publication of his comment that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax and are dependent on the government...Two GOP Senate candidates distanced themselves Tuesday from the remarks, revealed in a leaked video from a private fundraiser...Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a frequent Romney critic, called the remarks 'stupid and arrogant,' while Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon (R) repudiated them." Cameron Joseph in The Hill.

@JohnJHarwood: Peggy Noonan in WSJ: "There is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney's hands."

DOUTHAT: What's most disturbing about this incident lies with the American elite. "What these comments definitely tell us, though, is what Mitt Romney, master consultant, feels his 'clients' in the Republican donor base want to be told about this election and what will inspire them to dig deep and give freely to his cause. Assuming those instincts are correct, his comments help illuminate the way many well-off Americans feel about their less-fortunate fellow countrymen – and it isn’t a pretty thing to see...As many people have pointed out, Romney’s comments are a right-wing echo to what was previously the most famous leak from a fundraising event...In both cases, a presidential candidate was speaking about poorer people to a room full of rich people; in both cases, he was pandering to those rich people’s fearful stereotypes about a way of life that they don’t understand or share...For rich Republicans, the stereotype is all about the money...For rich Democrats, the stereotype is all about the culture wars...Both groups of donors seem to be haunted by dystopian scenarios in which the masses rise up and tear down everything the upper class has built." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

@grossdm: Assignment editors: Now is the time to order up those "Romney's coming back" pieces

CARLSON: The campaign is not over."During the Republican primaries, the press pretended there was an actual contest for the nomination even though the other candidates were a bunch of ninnies who didn’t stand a chance against Romney. Now the press is saying the race is over because of a few polls in a few swing states that show Romney behind, which will surely be overtaken soon enough by a few other polls showing the opposite. Or the press will come up with another way to keep the seesaw narrative going until November. Winning campaigns, to paraphrase Tolstoy, are all alike; every losing campaign finds its own way to fall apart. What’s different about Romney’s (so far, at least) unsuccessful campaign is that it is acting the part of the loser so early." Margaret Carlson in Bloomberg View.

Top op-eds

ORSZAG: How the Ryan plan would worsen access to doctors. "[T]he Ryan plan would substantially reduce choice for many people on Medicare -- by cutting them off from their current doctors...Doctors see Medicare patients, despite the relatively low payments they receive for doing so, partly because Medicare represents such a large share of the health-care market. If a substantial number of beneficiaries moved out of Medicare and into private plans, as Ryan proposes, doctors would have much less incentive to see Medicare patients...The evidence suggests that, in time, this problem could well affect a large share of Medicare beneficiaries...[A]bout 20 percent of doctors would be expected to stop accepting Medicare patients." Peter R. Orszag in Bloomberg.

ALEXANDER AND POMPEO: Let the wind tax credit blow away. "As Congress works to reduce spending and avert a debt crisis, lawmakers will have to decide which government projects are truly national priorities, and which are wasteful. A prime example of the latter is the production tax credit for wind power. It is set to expire on Dec. 31 -- but may be extended yet again, for the seventh time. This special provision in the tax code was first enacted in 1992 as a temporary subsidy to enable a struggling industry to become competitive...There are many reasons to let this giveaway expire, including wind energy's inherent unreliability and its inability to stand on its own two feet after 20 years." Lamar Alexander and Mike Pompeo in The Wall Street Journal.

PORTER: The tax debate in America. "Our skepticism about tax fairness has become an economic albatross. Tending to our liberal side, we have built a progressive tax schedule. Despite the decline in top tax rates, the rich today pay a larger share of federal taxes than they did decades ago. They pay a larger share of taxes than in Europe’s social democracies, which have much flatter tax schedules. But the progressive system we have built raises comparatively very little money to pay for social programs and to reduce economic inequality. And it does so at a high cost in terms of economic efficiency...Our skepticism about taxes’ legitimacy is unique among developed democracies. Among citizens of rich industrial countries, Americans are the least likely to agree that taxing the rich to subsidize the poor is an essential job of government in a democracy, according to the World Values Survey." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

@JohnJHarwood: Like Obama, Romney backs govt income redistribution (favors progressive income tax rate structure, opposes flat tax). Just less than Obama

Top long reads

Jill Lepore chronicles the rise of political consulting as a business:"Campaigns, Inc., the first political-consulting firm in the history of the world, was founded, in 1933, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter...Campaigns, Inc., specialized in running political campaigns for businesses, especially monopolies like Standard Oil and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. Pacific Gas and Electric was so impressed that it put Campaigns, Inc., on retainer...Political consulting is often thought of as an offshoot of the advertising industry, but closer to the truth is that the advertising industry began as a form of political consulting. As the political scientist Stanley Kelley once explained, when modern advertising began, the big clients were just as interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one. Monopolies like Standard Oil and DuPont looked bad: they looked greedy and ruthless and, in the case of DuPont, which made munitions, sinister. They therefore hired advertising firms to sell the public on the idea of the large corporation, and, not incidentally, to advance pro-business legislation."

Wish granted interlude: The U.S. Naval Academy's 22nd Company performs 'Gangnam Style'.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come:a new low for mortgage lending; big costs to obesity; regulators punt on 'swaps'; the scramble for Arctic oil and gas; and the branding of Obama and Romney.

Economy

A new low for mortgage lending. "Mortgage lending declined to its lowest level in 16 years in 2011 amid weak demand for mortgages and tighter lending standards, according to a report released by federal regulators Tuesday. Banks funded about 7.1 million mortgages in 2011, down 10% from the year before, and the lowest tally since banks issued 6.2 million mortgages in 1995...Loans funding home purchases fell by 5% last year and stood 64% below the level of 2006, when the housing market reached its peak." Nick Timiraos and Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Fed officials start talking up QE3. "A top Federal Reserve official expressed strong support Tuesday for the central bank's latest efforts to invigorate the recovery, saying it can do more if necessary...Mr. Dudley was one of three Fed officials to share their views Tuesday for the first time publicly since the central bank's policy committee meeting last week. Charles Evans, president of the Chicago Fed, endorsed the committee's actions, while Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher explained why he opposed them...Mr. Dudley offered his interpretation of some important, but vaguely worded language in last week's policy statement. The Fed said it would keep buying bonds until it saw 'substantial' improvement in the labor market, but didn't define what it meant by substantial. He said the jobless rate needs to decline by more than 'a bit,' and be accompanied by other signs of improvement like stronger economic growth and faster payroll employment growth." Michael S. Derby in The Wall Street Journal.

But the benefits of QE3 will take long time to reach consumers and borrowers. "[B]anks are set to see a windfall since the Fed’s actions will immediately lower the cost of issuing loans. It may take months or longer for benefits to trickle down to consumers, analysts say...Rather than intervene directly with consumers, the Fed must rely on banks, brokers and other industry actors to offer borrowers better terms." Danielle Douglas and Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.

Finalizing another round of budget cuts, Greece sees a brighter future. "Greece hopes to wrap up the details of a planned multibillion-euro package of spending cuts by Sunday, the country's finance minister said...[T]he central bank said Greece's current account moved into surplus in July, spurring optimism that the crisis-battered economy is showing signs of progress...Most economists say that Greece could achieve a surplus in its goods and services account in the next two to three years. If is achieved, it would help reduce the economy's need for foreign funding...[T]he country's economy has begun to respond to years of successive reform and austerity measures...[T]he country ha[s] restored some two-thirds of its lost competitiveness." Nektaria Stamouli and Philip Pangalos in The Wall Street Journal.

Science interlude: Another advance related to 3D printing.

Health Care

The cost of obesity: nearly $3 billion a year over two decades. "The Trust for America’s Health released its annual look at obesity rates this morning, and its not pretty. The national obesity rate is over 35 percent for adults, with big variation between states... If current trends continue, all states could reach or exceed an obesity rate of 44 percent for adults in 20 years. By 2030, 13 states would be expected to have an obesity rate above 60 percent... That’s expensive: The TFAH researchers estimate that the projected increase in obesity rates will cost the United States $550 billion between now and 2030." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Problems continue to emerge in disability insurance program. "Lax oversight is leading the government to approve disability benefits for people who can't prove that they're disabled, according to a report released Tuesday by a Senate subcommittee. The report, spearheaded by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), says more than a quarter of disability claims are approved despite inadequate or conflicting information...Coburn recommended a series of changes to the disability system, including updated standards for disability payments and a stronger quality-review process." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Domestic Policy

Regulators punt on plan for new rules on financial 'swaps.' "Long-awaited international rules to tighten the oversight of complex derivatives likely won’t be in place by year-end because regulators are squabbling about the details...Reining in complex derivatives was one of a long list of changes that world leaders agreed to after the financial crisis but are still works in progress...[T]he swaps market is made up of thousands of individual contracts negotiated between international companies and banks. Yet the $648 trillion market has no international regulator. Swaps can be used by companies to hedge risks or make bets associated with fluctuating values like the cost of fuel or the possibility of a company defaulting on its bonds." Jamila Trindle in The Wall Street Journal.

Federal employees stall STOCK Act. "[Some high-level civil servants and political appointees are] suing the government in an attempt to stop implementation of the Stock Act, a.k.a. Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which originally was meant to prohibit insider trading by members of Congress and their staffs...Fortunately, the legislative and judicial systems are trying to make things right. U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr., in Maryland’s southern division, has delayed implementation of the law until Oct. 31. And Congress has postponed the online posting requirement until the end of this month..." Joe Davidson in The Washington Post.

Penn. judge challenges voter ID law. "The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sent a case involving a controversial voter-identification law back to a lower court for review, dimming prospects that the law will be in effect for this year's presidential election. In a 4-2 ruling, the justices ordered a Commonwealth Court judge to block the law unless he determines that there will be 'no voter disenfranchisement' and that alternative IDs issued by the state are easy to obtain. The opinion is due by Oct. 2." Kris Maher in The Wall Street Journal.

Branding interlude: Obama supporters 'like' Rachel Maddow, organic food, and yoga. Romney supporters 'like' Fox, John Wayne, and NASCAR.

Energy

Cheap natural gas, among other reasons, is forcing coal mines to shut down. "Alpha Natural Resources will cut its coal production by 15 percent and immediately lay off about 160 mineworkers while idling eight mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania...[This is] the latest in a series of coal mining companies to trim output and jobs this year as domestic coal-fired power plants shut down in the face of cheap new U.S. natural gas supplies, a weak economy, and environmental regulations." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

As the Arctic melts, a scramble for oil, gas, and other resources. "At stake are the Arctic’s abundant supplies of oil, gas and minerals that are, thanks to climate change, becoming newly accessible along with increasingly navigable polar shipping shortcuts. This year, China has become a far more aggressive player in this frigid field, experts say, provoking alarm among Western powers." Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times.

Cost of carbon emissions may be far greater than estimated. "In 2010, 12 government agencies working in conjunction with economists, lawyers and scientists, agreed to work out what they considered a coherent standard for establishing the social cost of carbon...Instead, they decided, all of the agencies would use the same baseline of $21 per ton as the standard in monetizing the social costs of the seven-plus billion tons of carbon generated by American power plants, vehicles and factories each year. But a new paper published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences concludes that the costs of carbon pollution and related climate change are vastly greater — possibly two to 12 times as much. The problem, the authors argue, is that the federal government is not adequately taking into account the impacts of climate change on future generations. At the heart of this debate is a disagreement about how to apply an economic concept known as the discount rate to the impacts of climate change." Joanna M. Foster in The New York Times.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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