Analysis: Romney’s ‘47 percent' talk explains his struggles with swing voters

Mitt Romney campaigned in the Ohio rain Friday. Mitt Romney campaigned in the Ohio rain Friday. Charles Dharapak/AP

On pure philosophy alone, Mitt Romney’s Mother Jones moment offers two revealing glimpses into why he’s trailing President Obama even in a listless economy. Both revolve around how swing voters view economic policy.

In a now-infamous video posted Monday at MotherJones.com, Romney tells the audience at a private fundraiser that “47 percent” of voters, for reasons of government dependency, are destined to vote for Obama this fall.

“All right,” the Republican nominee says, “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… my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney also explains that those 47 percent don’t pay any federal income taxes, “So our message of low taxes doesn’t work.”

The danger of growing dependence on government - and the economic healing power of low taxes – are both themes that play very well with Republicans, presumably including the donors at the event on the tape. More than three in five Republicans disagree with the notion that “the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep,” the Pew Research Center Values Study found earlier this year. An April CBS News/New York Times poll found seven in 10 Republicans said lowering taxes was the best way to improve economic growth.

The problem for Romney is, independent voters – the middle “5 to 10 percent” of the electorate he talks about winning over in the fundraiser video – don’t share those views.

The Pew poll found about three in five independents endorse the idea of government guaranteeing citizens food and a bed. Roughly the same number agree that government “should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.”

Perhaps even more critically, the CBS News/New York Times poll found fewer than two in five independents believe lower taxes are the route to faster growth, compared to more than half who favor increased government spending and higher taxes.

If Romney wanted to argue that the poor have grown a little too fond of government help, or that America can’t afford to keep borrowing to fund a safety net, the Pew polls suggest large swaths of independent voters would be receptive. But that wasn’t the argument he made at the fundraiser. He was contending that his low-tax message works with independents, but not the government-dependent, which appears not to be true.

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