Mitt Romney and that 47%

by John Sides on September 17, 2012 · 100 comments

in Campaigns and elections

Josh Barro:

You can mark my prediction now: A secret recording from a closed-door Mitt Romney fundraiser, released today by David Corn at Mother Jones, has killed Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.

Josh Marshall:

It’s rare when the impact of some gaffe or embarrassment or revelation isn’t overstated on first blush. But this may just be that rare exception. This tape strikes me as absolutely devastating.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Hasn’t the 2012 campaign taught us not to jump the gun with various “gaffes”?  (Yes, I will be using scare quotes throughout.) In fact, didn’t the 2008 campaign teach us this too?  Here is my old graph with the 2008 Democratic primary polls, noting Obama’s comment about “bitter” voters who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

No movement in the polls after the story broke.  Let’s do some from the 2012 general election thus far:

No discernible or certainly consequential movement because of Obama’s two “gaffes.”  The only movement after Romney’s comments about the Libya attack is in his favor, thanks largely to the probably inevitable tightening after Obama’s convention bump.

The best case for saying that “gaffes matter” is that actual voters are persuaded to change their minds because of the gaffes.  If they don’t, then it’s tough to argue that “gaffes” are really “game-changers.”  And, in fact, usually voters don’t change their minds.  See, for example, Michael Tesler’s and my analyses of the impact of “the private sector is doing fine.”

The best argument you can make about these gaffes is sort of a woolly counterfactual: “Well, if it hadn’t been for the release of Romney’s video today, Romney would have been able to accomplish X, Y, and Z, which would have helped him win the election.”  Like any counterfactual, there is some plausibility—yes, Romney would rather talk about the unemployment rate than these comments.

But like any counterfactual, it’s predicated on assumptions about what the world would have looked like without these comments.  And given the tenuousness of any such assumptions, and the (at best) small effects that single events in any presidential general election campaign tend to have, I would stop well short of calling this video “devastating.”

Many a news cycle was built on a “gaffe” with a remarkably short shelf life.



Matt September 17, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Then there’s the odd one that does some real damage, eg. “Macaca.”

John Sides September 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Not even “macaca” may have been the deciding factor in that race. See my old post:

The graph in that post died when Pollster migrated to HuffPo, but you can get the general point from looking at the polls here:,_2006#Polling

maria September 18, 2012 at 12:03 am

It wasn’t a gaffe. It may have been, as he said at the presser, “indelicately worded” but the gist of it is the truth. Obama “I”ll never even listen to what the other guy says” voters are those who get something from other taxpayers or they are progressive elitists who think the other guy should pay for the slackers.

Total September 18, 2012 at 8:46 am

Well, that’s settled, then. “maria” in an Internet thread 9/18/12 at 12:03 am has pronounced it so.

Detroit September 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm

I am amused by folks who call liberals “elitist”, especially since these are the same people who dislike liberals for being inclusive of diversity, including LGBT diversity, and for thinking that all citizens deserve equal rights and a living wage. How is that elitist? Is it because we are *gasp* educated?

London September 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

No its because you sneer at poor working class people while tossing them a few crumbs from your table.

Joel September 20, 2012 at 9:34 am

Good point, London. To back up this assessment you could point to Obama’s comments in 2008 about voters clinging to their guns and religion. There is disrespect for other views inherent in that comment. This is what many perceive as liberal elitist: the assumption that they have all the right answers and will enforce them whether you like it or not.

snowcountry September 19, 2012 at 4:54 pm

A gaffe is defined as “an act or remark causing embarrassment to its originator.” Or, put simply, a stupid thing to say. The “indelicate wording” is *why* it’s a gaffe. Whether or not a particular statement comes across as a gaffe generally has little to do with facts and everything to do with its perception.

Dom September 18, 2012 at 12:04 am

“No discernible or certainly consequential movement because of Obama’s two “gaffes.””

Actually, that doesn’t seem to be the case. After Obama’s two gaffes, support for Romney did increase, at least according to the data in your chart. I can’t tell by looking at it whether those bounces were significant, but the timing is right on cue. It might be the case that gaffes didn’t discourage committed Obama supporters to ditch him, but rather nudged undecideds to oppose him (at least temporarily).

giantslor September 18, 2012 at 1:16 am

For “the private sector is doing fine,” yes, but for the other “gaffe,” Romney was already trending up beforehand and the trend continued at the same rate afterward.

matt September 18, 2012 at 11:18 am

These curves are fairly smoothed, so it’s not really possible *from this figure* to get that exact a timing to a discrete event. (That is, it’s not obvious that Romney was trending upwards before the “build it” event or if the smoothing took some of that bump and put it before the event.)

Peter Griffin September 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. Lois this is not my Batman glass.

giantslor September 18, 2012 at 1:12 am

I don’t think it’s a game changer (Romney is already losing the game), but won’t today’s scandal anger 2008′s Obama voters and encourage them to turn out in larger numbers?

DGarr September 18, 2012 at 1:25 am

Goodbye, Mr. Romney.
We don’t want to see you anywhere NEAR the White House.
It is going to be a lot more than 47% of Americans who vote against you.
You are not only cynical and vacant, you are frightening.
Go back where you came from.

tenore September 18, 2012 at 6:32 am

Looking forward to 8 years of Romney/Ryan, beginning in January 2013.

Peter September 18, 2012 at 11:26 am

Keep looking ;-)

Captain Psychedelic September 20, 2012 at 10:23 am

down, down, down – Obama’s going down.

Garfield September 18, 2012 at 6:59 am

he will win in spite of the moochers’ vote. vote. there are over 50% of people in this country tired of paying for the entitlement crowds. The 47% comment, it is perfectly accurate. i see nothing wrong with that assessment.

Nick September 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm


Captain Psychedelic September 20, 2012 at 10:24 am


Rene September 18, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I see nothing wrong with Romney’s statement. There are 47 percent of Americans who are simply lazy and want to live off welfare and increase our nation’s debt through spending if people would realize how messed up this country is going to be under four more years of Obama they would vote Romney.

Paul September 18, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Exactly! The only possible reason that people could ever *possibly* disagree with you is that they are stupid, ignorant, and morally degenerate!

How could an intelligent, well-informed person look at the evidence and decide to vote differently than you? Impossible! That would never happen! They must be lazy moochers, or living under a rock, or terrorists or something!

Me September 19, 2012 at 12:43 am

Or bitter clingers, or religious zealots, or people voting because of false consciousness, or racists, etc. etc. Y’know, if you’re going to make this kind of suggestion, you might at least have considered whether it was a far more common talking point among the left for excusing their own electoral failures.

Wendy September 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Rene, et. al., (Romney supporters)…..are you kidding me? Try following this analysis: Of all the people who are eligible to pay INCOME taxes, 53.6% pay income taxes, and 46.4% pay no INCOME taxes. OK, now of the 46.4% that don’t pay, it breaksdown like this: 28.3% pay no INCOME taxes, but do pay payroll taxes (social security, medicare, state income taxes, and unemployment tax). These people are the WORKING POOR, who work but make less than $24,ooo per year, and with the income tax deductions have a zero or negative tax basis. The remaining 18.1 pay no taxes. So lets now break down the 18.1% who pay NO INCOME OR ANY OTHER TAXES: Approximately. Then, aproximarely 6% are children who’s parents cannot provide food and medical care for their children. There’s a remaining less than 1%, that are wealthy and pay no taxes due to loopholes, offshore accounts, and anything they can use to avoid paying their fair share. Wake Up America! Romney doesn’t know you, wouldn’t help you, could give a good care. BOTTOM LINE ROMNEY! Its all about the bottom line!

thomas September 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

why do you conflate payroll taxes and income taxes? Last time i checked, citizens get cash benefits back from having paid payroll taxes whereas with income taxes that goes into funding “the common good.” It’s apples to oranges.

SeattleCPA September 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Payroll taxes are income taxes. They are a function of income, they have been used until quite recently to pay for things other than SS and MCare, and the Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that there is NO obligation by the government to pay any future benefits to citizens.

thomas September 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm

that may be true as a matter of law, but as a matter of practice they are distinct. working americans who pay payroll taxes have, since the inception of social security and medicate, drawn benefits as a result of payroll taxes having been collected by government. americans who pay both federal income taxes (one of the traditional brackets) AND payroll taxes on their income also receive SS benefits, yet the income tax they pay (their bracket payments) are not funding benefits for them. it’s very clear that low-income taxpayers who only pay payroll taxes receive more back in benefits than do taxpayers who pay both types of taxes (federal payroll and federal income).

thomas September 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm

i should have been more clear. americans who pay the payroll tax, but do not pay the federal income tax are as an empirical matter, eligible for more in social security benefit payments than they paid into the system in payroll taxes.

Rich September 20, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Thomas, whether or not payroll taxes are conflatable with income taxes doesn’t matter. These are working people who are not collecting welfare, unlike the assertion by Rene: “There are 47 percent of Americans who are simply lazy and want to live off welfare and increase our nation’s debt through spending”

It is not the fault of these people that the tax laws are such that they are exempt from paying Federal income tax. In fact, it was laws passed under Republican Presidents/Congresses that set things up that way.

Let’s be fair and honest here, please. Thank you.

Captain Psychedelic September 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

Spot on Renee!

Sebastian September 18, 2012 at 2:09 am

John – any thought on fundraising? I’m betting this is helping Obama a lot fundraising and the perception of ineptitude – see David Brooks column e.g. – may hurt Romney’s fundraising, so the fact would be indirect and long-term.
Any research on that?

JDP September 18, 2012 at 2:11 am

there’s plenty to criticize about Mitt Romney, but “frightening” would not be one of them in my book. then again i’m not a leftist so i don’t get the vapors at the slightest hint of WASPiness.

matoko_chan September 18, 2012 at 6:06 am

John Sides you are being disingenuous.
The difference between the two events is that the bitter clingers were never going to vote for Obama, while the 47% include a lot of Romneys base.
Nate Silver says a gaffe that sticks costs the candidate 10 points.
May I draw your attention to this email from a Sully reader ?
“If Obama is really, really smart, tomorrow he’s going to be almost speechless about what Romney has said. He’s not going to pounce; he’s not going to express campaign-grade indignation; he’s not going to try to score points. Rather, he’ll take a moment to explain what everybody else is explaining: that a lot of the people who don’t pay income taxes are the sick, the poor and the elderly, who we should all be concerned about.
You’ll know tomorrow just how meep-meep Obama is. If he plays this correctly he hangs this around Romney’s neck in a way that he will never be able to resolve before the first debate. If he treats it like just another campaign moment, that’s how voters will see it.”

Its simply breathtaking how much contempt Romney has for his base. Not only is he describing redstate economically challenged voters, the elderly, and the military as moochers and looters, but he believes they are too stupid see it.

Daly Score September 18, 2012 at 7:19 am

You really don’t get it do you …Romney wants to help ALL AMERICANS included..he was telling the truth. I think these people (libs on the take) need to get up and learn how to survive on their own. I did it ..why can’t they ..I had 4kids, an alcholic brother and an invalid Mother i had to take care of . I worked 16-18hr days weekends and holidays with no gov’t assistance. I don’t even know if I knew there was any gov’t assistance available, I just knew I had to care for my family the best way I could. It was all on my back to clothe, feed and house these people that depended on me. I was lucky because there were jobs out there, but now no jobs that is why we need Mitt Romney …otherwise we live in socialism and ask any one in a socialistic country how that is working for them..Ask comes communism and I for one was taught you fight that at all cost ..I want free market and free enterprise so I and my children and their families can survive. WE WILL NOT GET THAT WITH OBAMA. he really doesn’t care about anyone . His methods won’t work . Just Think about it ..If you want the dole …like the 47% then do it and see how far it gets you ..Understand Hitler made the country depend on the gov’t for everything before he took over …

Daniel September 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I believe you. You spent your whole life working, and none educating yourself.

Joel September 20, 2012 at 9:44 am

Wow, you can disagree with someone, but that was just a nasty comment, Daniel.

Captain Psychedelic September 20, 2012 at 10:25 am

How mean

MK September 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm

If you’re in the 47% it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on government assistance. There are a lot of working people in that 47% numbers who won’t even know they’re not paying federal taxes. They might be people like you, who have dependents they’re supporting by busting their butts. They’re paying Federal Taxes with each paycheck and then getting a refund at the end of the year. And they continue to pay payroll and state taxes.

You might want to check your returns. If you do have dependents then you may be paying far less in taxes as a % of salary then you thought.

Wendy September 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Daly Score, read my earlier post. (libs) as you refer to those lazy people, work very hard. The people who don’t work nor make money is a small amount of the 18%. 10% elderly, and 6% children. While its obvious you are proud of yourself, but you come across as bitter and resentful. I, too, was in your position, exactly same story. I didn’t receive ANY help either, but I know there very well could have been situations where I may have. What if I lost my job? What if one of my children, or worse me became seriously ill? who would take care of my children? Pay the medical bills? I was within 30 days of being homeless for a very, very long time. It was just my destiny, which wasn’t because a lack of character, it was the draw of the genes (ancestry), and the environment in which I lived. Try to let that stuff go, and see things from someone else’s views, especially an elderly lady who has nothing left, or a child that is abandonded by their parents, or those who have lost everythng to Katrina, lets say……Don’t be so sure of yourself that you will never need or take help. If you’re alive, its possible. I wouldn’t want to eat crow under those circumstances……God Bless. From a lib who pays quite a lot in income taxes.

TB September 20, 2012 at 2:15 am

hmmmm…. my first job after graduating high school was (literally) digging ditches. I put myself through college and now I own my own company and make a quarter million a year. My son recently graduated from Harvard Law. And I have drawn conclusions about how to live in a communitarian society that are approximately 180 degrees away from the ones that you have expressed. Those of us that are blessed have a responsibility to offer a helping hand to those who are striving. If that hand also occasionally grasps the hand of someone who is needy but not striving, so be it. That is on them… My son works for a for-profit company that gives most of its profit away to non-profits. by design. I pay my employees 20% more than market rate. by design. I not only support Obama, although I am white and have come from a middle-class, protestant background, I see Obama as my brother.

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Daly, there are tons of liberals who have similar backgrounds and stories.

Garfield September 18, 2012 at 7:23 am

His base is ok with it., yep including those on the con side that don’t pay federal income taxes. Actually a lot on the con side are thrilled that he is finally teelling it as it is. I am usually following closely 3,4 popular con blogs and I was surprised to see people there who were vowing to sit these elections out because according to them Romney is too ‘liberal’ – well, after the 47% comment they now say that they donated to Romney for the first time this election cycle, as a result., and thry sill alao go to vote. If you think that he will lose a single con vote as a result of this comment, or make anybody on our side stay home, you’re delusional and you have no idea of the levels of enthusiasm on the con side when it comes to voting obama out. Actually that comment might draw more hard cons to him, indeed there are indications that ronulans are coming to his side, could be his criticism of Q3, but the fact is that hey are coming around….Romney already has an advantage with the indies and they are not usually moochers type, so that comment won’t affect the much. the moochers of the 47% who were voting for Obama will vote for him anyways. So move on people, nothing to see here. Sides is dead on.

matoko_chan September 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

Both the above comments are radar chaff. Let me redirect.
The point I was making was that John Sides is just handicapping the horserace.
The bitter clinger statement is not analogous to Romney expressing contempt for half the country.
Gaffes that stick DO matter. Nate Silver says they can cost the candidate 10 points. Kerry’s windsurfer, Dukakis’ tank, Sarah Palin’s…..well…..everything. If Romney didnt think it was a gaffe why did he hold a desperate ten o’clock presser?
I guess the conservative bubble doesnt include the twitter machine.
Read ‘em and weep.

Do you know what really makes a gaffe stick, John Sides? Humor and repetition.
For example, what do americans remember about Sarah Palin? “I can see Russia from my house” even though she never said that. Tina Fey’s mock of Palin defined her for all history. Will Romney’s gaffe stick? To soon to tell. But I wouldn’t write it off as inconsequential just yet.

Me September 19, 2012 at 1:01 am

This analysis misses several critical points:
1) 47% as a number is meaningless. Romney was trying to express a relationship between Obama’s support and the Democrats tactic of appealing to special interests via government largesse. I anticipate most people without an interest in playing gotcha with Romney get this, even if they didn’t like the way he worded it.
2) Most people won’t consider themselves members of the group Romney describes.
3) Many people (perhaps most) will agree that there are too many people who rely on government assistance.
4) Most voters assume politicians (and other elitists) hold them in some contempt already. We have a president who regularly insists that voters will come around to his way of thinking if he could just explain it one more time. Also, the Democrats insistence on more government programs sounds paternalistic to a lot of voters.
5) Voters tend to focus on issues, not gotcha moments. That’s why Obama’s bitter clingers remark didn’t cost him 2008 (even in PA). The economic crisis left voters wanting to punish the incumbent party.
As we get closer to the election, the economy will move into greater focus. This tempest in a teapot “gaffe” simply won’t be a factor with people who aren’t already diametrically opposed to Romney. Suggesting the election is over is wishful thinking of the most dubious kind.

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Hi Me,

All sounds good on paper, but the sight of the gazillionaire claiming that grandma and disabled vets are moochers does not sit well with many thoughtful people.

Garfield September 18, 2012 at 7:29 am

Its simply breathtaking how much contempt Romney has for his base. Not only is he describing redstate economically challenged voters, the elderly, and the military as moochers and looters, but he believes they are too stupid see it.
matoko_chan September 18, 2012 at 6:06 am


yeah, coz any con or any of the military who vote heavily Republican regardless, will vote for Obama as a result of that comment…you people are in deep denial…

matoko_chan September 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

of course not. Organic conservative tendency ensures that.
But Romney’s continued gaffes are shaping the public perception of him, and no one wants to bet on a loser, especially not independents.
There was Romney’s world tour debacle that lead to #romneyshambles and #americanborat. In the primaries the 10,000 bet. Last week there was Benghazi-gate. This week there has been the 47% story. Four more days this week.
Does this give anyone an idea of what the debates could look like?

Rich September 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

“yeah, coz any con or any of the military who vote heavily Republican regardless, will vote for Obama as a result of that comment…you people are in deep denial…”

You cannot even begin to comprehend the nature of this election and the significant roles each are playing. I deem by your comment that you are black by the use of ‘coz’ and will vote for your race because that’s who’s in office. Color shouldn’t matter as the principles behind the election should. Any person with plain eyesight can say that the economy is NOT recovering under Obama. A fact that has already been illustrated is recent results for July which show a whopping 92,000 jobs created and a loss of 403,000 jobs. That my dear friend is not a covering nation.

To drop the US dollar value to near nothing in the world by raising our debt ceiling to 16 trillion dollars, 7 trillion in just 4 years, is not something I want stuck over the heads of my children. If Obama and his policies raise the ceiling 7 trillion in his first term, you can bet the second will equal if not be higher. You will have been a millionaire to even afford a trip overseas due to the exchange rates into foreign currency.

My family and I are in the %47 and Romney’s comments are correct. He can’t do nothing for us. We are quite content making our own money and staying above poverty without being dependent on government assistance. Nor do we expect hand-outs from those better off to boost our assistance.

Personally I think the US should pay more attention to what Obama has really done that majorly effected our current situation than to blur comments made to fit media suggestions.

Allowing illegal immigrants citizenship, their children free education/health care. – Out of the American people’s pockets of course.

Raising the debt ceiling 7 trillion. – Can’t manage the government checkbook even reasonable with once again the American people playing for.

Obamacare Health policies – A few parts I can agree with and SHOULD have been part of medicare but overall? Who pays for the free health care because we all know that you get nothing for free.. the American people of course. You can say you aren’t, but even if it’s reflected in the national deficit, you’re paying that off.

Without writing a book, I’m just going to shut up. Minds are set without any realistic thinking of our future. They see a ‘dumb hick’ running against a ‘teleprompter reading’ and already made up their minds. Four years ago, how many times was Obama stumped and “umm.. umm” come out of his mouth?

I leave you with this: Our nation needs to wake up and stop being manipulated. Blacks are going to vote for blacks because of the depression of the white man years ago. Women are going to vote for whoever promises what they feel they deserve. Gays are going to vote for whoever promises them the world. Christians are going to vote for whoever settles in their beliefs. I ask you one thing, at what cost people? I won’t be voting for Obama due to the past 4 years and Romney may not be the best choice to fix everything, but he will at least take care of a few of my concerns: Obamacare / Deficit

matoko_chan September 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm

im a white grrl in grad school.
and a stat nerd.
the 538 nowcast has Romney’s prob to win at 5.6%
I think its game ovah.

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Rich (NOT me wrote): “You cannot even begin to comprehend the nature of this election and the significant roles each are playing. I deem by your comment that you are black by the use of ‘coz’ and will vote for your race because that’s who’s in office.”

Well, now. That says about all I need to know about your intellect.

ThePoliticalOmnivore September 18, 2012 at 7:52 am

The betting markets have shown some movement on both the Libya cycle and this (about a 2.5% drop). I’m not in the “betting markets are better predictors than the polls” camp but I think people putting their money where their mouth is does matter. It’s also a question of narrative / branding. Some gaffes (Obama-is-a-socialist) don’t play well with swing-voters (Ask Karl Rove who councils NOT saying that to moderate audiences) others which “play into” branding may have a better chance of changing someone’s mind … and, looking at Rand’s poll of people who’ve changed their mind ( there DOES seem to be some movement over the past 24hrs …

matoko_chan September 18, 2012 at 10:10 am

Nice catch Omni.
We can check both the betting markets and the RAND survey.
I think betting markets are more sensitive to current events.
Nate incorporates RAND into the 538 model.
Its a very interesting design.

ThePoliticalOmnivore September 18, 2012 at 10:37 am

Thanks! There are a very few “minute by minute” indicators that we can look at. The TwinDex (Twitter Index) is one (although it’s only updated daily)–and it’s hard to parse at the 5000 foot level. PoliticIT has an “internet influence score” but they don’t update it all that often so it’s also hard to see day-by-day movement. (We cover these guys in our Digital Politics series:

I think the future of campaigning will integrate these trigger-based (active) measures where the potential voter takes action at least as much as the poll-question based (passive) measures–but it’s hard to know how those correlate to actual votes today.

I’d love it if Obama would release their big-data model when the campaign is over but, while I’m wishing, why not a unicorn-pony too …

matoko_chan September 18, 2012 at 11:23 am

I suspect our antique polling methodology (Rasmussen, im lookin’ at you and your robopolls) has been obsoleted by social media.
Thats why the RAND poll is so exciting.
It seems like we should be able to solve the non-respondent problem with the right combination of invitations to poll on different media, without sacrificing randomness.

Jacee September 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

There is a definite skew towards liberalism in social media polling that seems to be ignored.Bottom line Obamas demographic is the social media crowd could you not then assume that he will poll higher through that method? Just saying.

mixplix September 18, 2012 at 8:01 am

Just visited the “Huffington Post” site and the 47% army is alive and kicking there.

suzy000 September 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

Romney just plainly explained Obama’s next term. If you want out of the 47%…vote for Romney. If you want to be forever poor and continue on the handout trail…vote for Obama…it is very plain. Millions thrown into the 47% in 2008 want OUT…they will be voting for Romney…this was not a gaffe…it was just plain talk that Americans understood very well. Most of these bloggers are wrong…they are speaking partisan…not reality.

Total September 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

The best case for saying that “gaffes matter” is that actual voters are persuaded to change their minds because of the gaffes. If they don’t, then it’s tough to argue that “gaffes” are really “game-changers.”

Hmmm. Those two sentences contain a fair amount of problematic logic. *Any* effect of a gaffe is not the same thing as the *best case* effect. It also elides that there may be other ways of measuring the effects of gaffes, like voter enthusiasm & turnout, monetary donations to the campaign, and media coverage. The latter also puts a lie to the second sentence: if gaffes make the opponent’s supporters (we’ll call them “The 47%”) more likely to turn out and vote, then it could indeed be a game-changer.

LadyS September 18, 2012 at 9:26 am

The 47% are people who don’t pay net Federal income taxes. Most people who receive 3 and 4 digit tax refunds do so because of credits and deductions (unless they are so stupid at math as to have way too much deducted), covering their Federal income tax, and are in the 47%.

Most of the 47% are NOT on food stamps or housing assistance. Most of them are just regular working Americans who pay their bills and buy their own food.

I have to assume that many commenters haven’t the slightest idea that they, themselves, are in the 47%, and always have been, because they don’t understand what it refers to and don’t know how to read their own tax return.

suzy000 and others, how much did you pay, net, in Federal income taxes (not payroll taxes like SS, not state taxes, not use taxes, straight Federal income tax)? Do you even know?

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm

LadyS, getting a deduction doesn’t mean the government simply paid you – it means you paid more than you owed during the year, and the overpayment is being returned to you.

Net result is that you’ve still paid income taxes (usually anyway, unless you had deductions from your paycheck when you owed nothing, which I don’t imagine is common at all).

aac September 18, 2012 at 9:49 am

I’m not an elections person, but I faintly remember reading something about the connection between turnout/fundraising and gaffes. Can anyone provide a link? If it hasn’t been looked at, it should be. The fundraising effect should be easy, the turnout effect would require regular polling of “do you plan to vote” or something like that.

Luis September 18, 2012 at 10:42 am

When did the comments here get overrun? Is it just this post or have I been missing out on earlier posts as well? John, I suppose none of the serious posters have time to moderate away the low-to-no-content comments here, but perhaps you could deputize a few of the regular posters?

M September 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

There is a link to this post in an article on

Affirmative September 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm

The real gaffe was claiming that 5-10% are independents. We all know that there is no such thing as independents.

Stavros September 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm

So nobody votes third party?

M September 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I think it’s a mistake to treat all “gaffes” as if they are equivalent. For one thing, the Romney “gaffe” is more directly relevant to the candidate’s policy positions than the other gaffes mentioned in this article (as is the Palestinian bit that subsequently came out). For another thing, his statement, in conjunction with some basic math, leads to the ever-so-slightly suspect conclusion that almost no one who pays income will vote for Obama, and almost everyone who pays income tax is predestined to vote for Romney. I don’t think that will play well with people who haven’t yet made up their minds.

Clearly these considerations do not mean that the gaffe WILL matter — time will tell — but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility in such an out of hand manner.

Joe September 18, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Well, this is a painfully limited trial with painfully limited data. How do you measure the severity of different gaffes? Wright I, II, you didn’t build that, bear little resemblance to this diddy. Two elections with limited gaffes does not constitute anything remotely scientific.

Has everyone already forgotten that fateful BYAH!!! shouted by Howard Dean. That wasn’t even a real gaffe, that was a funny sound, and it killed him!

BDC September 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm

How about McCain’s “The fundamentals of our economy are strong”? From what I recall, he was all downhill after that day. Of course, Palin’s interview with Katie Couric didn’t help either.

DD September 18, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I started reading this blog because of its political science perspective, including the comments. It’s a shame trolls found this site with their fallacies galore. This is a site for thoughtful conversation, most of you need to find another blog to complain and name-call. Hopefully, the site will start limiting the types of comments allowed. I understand they might feel openness is important and I just might need to resist reading comments (like many other sites). What a shame…

mikeel September 18, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Substitute Middle east protests for Romney’s Libya remarks. This is damaging to Obama because he is seen as weak. Sure his bounce should disappear, but not so quickly.

Peter Steadman September 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm

This isn’t a gaffe. At least, not in the sense that, for instance, “you didn’t build that” was a gaffe. A mere gaffe is not so revealing. For example, the “that” in “you didn’t build that” clearly refers to bridges and roads, not to businesses, thus the gaffe consisted only of constructing a sentence in which the antecedent appeared possibly ambiguous, it revealed nothing about some hidden Obama world view. Romney’s “47 percent” is a pulling back of the curtain. It reveals a hidden and ugly truth. The word gaffe is stretched too far to cover this.

Me September 19, 2012 at 1:22 am

This is simply spin. Obama’s comment revealed a politician who is not just skeptical of but hostile to the notion that people build their businesses. Pretending that he was just talking about public infrastructure obfuscates the fact that he was focusing on said infrastructure as a way to denigrate the efforts and investment of private business owners in their venture (along with obfuscating the role private business and owners play in public revenue, given the larger percentage of revenues that come from this group). In other words, Obama undercut everything he’s said about wanting to help private and especially small businesses.

On the other hand Romney’s remark is being characterized as playing to the stereotype the Democrats have worked to pin on him. It’s rich for people who have smeared Romney as a heartless business elite to claim the curtain has been pulled back. But it’s precisely because liberals are so invested in the stereotype that they are misreading the situation as a deadly gaffe. Romney expressed a concern that polling shows most Americans sympathize with – not the idea that 47% of Americans are freeloaders – but that too many Americans rely too much on government. For all the weakness of the phrasing of his remarks, that essence is something both conservatives and independents get. And they also get that President Obama doesn’t share that concern in the least.

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Me said: “Obama’s comment revealed a politician who is not just skeptical of but hostile to the notion that people build their businesses. Pretending that he was just talking about public infrastructure obfuscates the fact that he was focusing on said infrastructure as a way to denigrate the efforts and investment of private business owners in their venture”

Not at all. It was a response to the attitude that all government is is an albatross around the economy’s neck.

Will September 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Why do we look at the effect of gaffes on voters? Fine, it appears that public opinion is not significantly affected by gaffes. However, what about the affects on the candidate, does it cause problems within the campaign, with donors, or with influence supporters? I think it is a big overreach to assume that gaffes never have an impact on a campaign. And FYI, the Obama quote on “guns and religion” has lead to a boom in gun sales:

Andre Kenji September 19, 2012 at 12:57 am

Dukakis in the tank? The polls and the media at the time indicates that was the biggest reason that he lost.

frosty September 19, 2012 at 1:02 am

Mitt Romney was pre-ordained to be the Priesident in the ‘Last Days’ That was in heaven before the foundations of the Earth were laid…. My Mormon friends told me so. Mitt will win it doesn’t matter how you vote.

Mike Kaplan September 19, 2012 at 1:39 am

Romney is railing against his own base. The states with the highest percentage of non-payers are GOP strongholds (except for NM).

Looks like his comments are going to cost him votes in the trailer park.

sarahb September 19, 2012 at 1:40 am

They took down Howard Dean for saying one word: “Yeah” a little too exuberantly. Depends on which side you are on. The “liberal” press only takes down liberals.

Jeff September 19, 2012 at 9:31 am

You really can’t compare the two Obama “gaffes” with this one. First of all, the two Obama quotes were misrepresented and when the full context was seen by the public and the media his meaning was not what Romney was saying it was. Second, you also have to understand the power of when an accurate quote fully supports the main thrust of the oppositions’ campaign advertising, turning the full power of the media into complete agreement that the message the opposition is promoting is absolutely true. Look at Al Gore/ John Kerry and the “lies” and “flipflopping” respectively. The individual statements made by these candidates were insignificant, but if the media piles on to the message of the opposing candidate, it will kill the campaign.

And on a personal note, I also think it is a misrepresentation and minimization to call this a “gaffe”. With Romney now backing it as true and as a clarification of his stance, it is more of a blunt policy statement that the campaign is focusing on now. If that policy is offensive or unpopular to a significant portion of the population, then he should and will lose.

Kithara September 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

Sides is right to be skeptical

Romney’s speech to wealthy donors was a look inside the veil and does in fact more clearly show what he is pitching than what his campaign is. Full metal Randism replete with makers and takers. That dog whistle has repeatedly called home those who were predisposed to hear this message anyway; perhaps as some in the thread have indicated this will reanimate the con base. That may compensate for any potential Obama lift caused by the repulsion independents or wavering democrats may experience.

It is up to Obama to show how Romney will scuttle the social safety net and transfer wealth to .1 % via large tax breaks. Obama will have to show how this is far worse for most Americans than the mediocre recovery he wrestled from unwilling Republican legislators. Obama will have to show how Romney sheds no light on how Romney/Ryan reduces deficits; he will have to show how their math doesn’t compute.

I would like that to turn voters, but I have my doubts about that.

I also doubt that the confusing 47% construction will cause anyone who is a committed republican to say ‘hey, Thursten Romney the third is talking about me’. Obviously Romney didn’t intend to hit that mark; it was only his habitual lax habit of cognition to conflate the Obama so called moocher base with an orthogonal statistic that covers a fairly substantial part of Romney’s base that received the federal tax reduction from W’s 2001 tax breaks (hey be cheered up cons; the fiscal cliff will lift them from moocher status soon enough).

I think it is too soon to tell how this event will play out. As some have mentioned this will have to be spun up by the MSM and comedians to become a token of shame. That hasn’t occurred yet (i’m surfing constantly to find it…).

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Very astute stuff, Kithara.

duke-rules September 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Since the RomneyBot2.0 describes the 47% who don’t pay income taxes as the ‘moochers’ and other derogatory terms from the Atlas Shrugged manifesto, can anyone here tell us how much the RomneyBot2.0 pays in income taxes OR ANY TAXES the last 10 years?

This minimum disclosure would be REQUIRED if he were being nominated for any position in the government. And Romney required it of Paul Ryan.

Just asking.

sf2000 September 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I think these are beautiful curves and wise words. You only forget one thing. All those “gaffes” where meant to be heard. This one was not intended to become public. I think people got pretty immune to campaigning, but this is not the campaign. So another nice try to explain why this does not matter, as a matter of fact the best one I’ve seen so far, and I’ve seen a lot. That’s the other thing you don’t mention. I’ve heard that Romney is stating the truth, I heard he did not mean what he said, I heard it’s not elegant, I heard he meant something completely differnet (48, 49 percent of the 47 percent;) and that he is just a buisiness guy telling the buyers what they want to hear, and of course I’ve heard a lot of media-bashing and how unfair this all is.

There are far too many ways the GOP tries to spin this one, and all it does is spin out of control more and more, giving it attention in a way that even Romneys convention speech did not get. We should get to know Romney there, you remember? And now we got to know him.

anonymous September 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm

While the individual gaffes may not be deciding factors for voters, they *do* impact how the candidate is portrayed in the media and what kind of reputation they get. In 2008, John McCain was “too old” and Sarah Palin was “retarded”, whereas Obama was “invincible”. Interestingly, perhaps the most damaging of Palin’s gaffes wasn’t even something she said – it was Tina Fey’s “I can see Russia from my house”. That moment marked the end of the McCain campaign and Palin’s national legitimacy.

Most voters don’t pay attention to the issues, and they don’t really care about individual gaffes. They vote based on their general impression of a candidate, which is heavily influenced by the media.

dispassionateobserver01 September 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm

This is lazy at so many levels.

The two so-called gaffes are not created equal. And most people understand that. Obama was empathizing with economically poor, white, religious gun owners in states that Republicans carry easily – while Romney has just written these precise voters off.

There was, in an analytical sense an essential truth in what Obama said back in 2008 – the question of why white lower-middle-class voters vote along culture war lines, against their own economic interests has been a longstanding one in US political discourse.

There is something profoundly false about Romney’s claims – both factually, as well as politically – Romney has, in essence written off voters who actually vote for him nearly in the majority. The states won by Republicans receive far more federal aid per capita, as well as in comparison to their productive output, compared to states won by Democrats.

As an argument:
How is it logical to say that predictions which do not depend on identifying Romney’s comments about the 47% and Palestine as “gaffes”, are proved to be premature based on the fact that Romney’s response to Libya generated no results?

Predictions by definition are premature – that’s why they are predictions, and that’s why they are interesting!

I hope you don’t write your blog for a living, because you make very sloppy arguments for a professional writer.

Jarvis Simpson September 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Author of the blog is making a category error.

See, there are gaffes and there are GAFFES.

This was a GAFFE. No, it was a super-GAFFE, it was the gaffe to end all GAFFES.

“gaffe” fails to capture the magnitude of Romney’s remarks.

It’s not a game-changer, it’s a game-ender. It’s the sound of the fat lady singing.

Tad September 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm

64 comments on the Monkey Cage? Is it a record?

Always nice to see a decent discussion (only a touch partisan).

My only comment is that at least in the 2012 Graphic when Obama had his two gaffes (supposed or not) it didn’t seem to touch his support but you had two spikes from Romney shortly thereafter. I’m not sure that wouldn’t be considered an effect even if it’s more to rally the base of the opposition. Respectfully, it does seem discernible if not necessarily long lasting.

Martin Vandernort September 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm

But really, how about a thought experiment. How (much more) absurdly awful a thing would Romney have to be caught saying (inarticulately, inelegantly, etc.) for it to make a difference in the polls?

Consider what he did say: 47% of the population are hopeless losers that cannot be persuaded to take personal responsibility for themselves.

Now, what do we need to add to this to make it sufficiently bad for it to have a measurable effect in the polls?

Suppose Mitt held a press conference and arrived in full Nazi regalia, looked directly to the camera, and said to the American people: “F_ck off, America”. And then walked off camera.

Would that have a measurable impact on the polls? I mean, what would he have to do? Is there no hypothetical “gaffe” that could move the polls?

David Robinette September 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Some gaffes, at least, fall into a category not addressed here: probably a game changer, but we will never know. I am thinking in particular about President Ford’s remarks on Poland made during his debate with Jimmy Carter. I have to think there have been a few more.

Wendilynn September 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

What I don’t think your taking into account is how the media treats Obama’s and Romney’s gaffes differently.

With Obama, they nearly ignore them or they soften them. With Romney, they work it to be the worst thing ever said and they take stuff to make up gaffes. Like when they take Romney’s dry, self-deprecating sense of humor and make up gaffes that his audiences at the time did not take as a gaffe.

Romney has been saying all these things for over a year. I know people aren’t happy about the 47% comment but it was in relation to campaign strategy of who you can realistically expect to convert to vote for you. You know that obama and his people have had these same conversations. Obama’s guns adn religion comment was along the same lines about a part of the electorate that he would not convert to vote for him.

Steve Tursky September 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I’m old enough to remember the election of 1976, when President Gerald Ford made that incredible gaffe about Eastern Europe not being dominated by the Soviet Union. At the time Eastern Europe was indeed dominated by the Soviet Union, and that gaffe contributed to his defeat by Jimmy Carter. Gaffes do matter. It just depends on the atmospherics and the combustible stuff surrounding the election.

Crissa September 20, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I’m unclear on why you think bittergate would affect Democratic polls. Few Democrats found the comment to be unrepresentative.

Rich September 20, 2012 at 11:36 pm

My final comment is this:

Has anyone noticed that all the people who don’t take the time or effort to honestly consider what the “47%” is all about (some small percentage of moochers and the rest honest, hard-working (or formerly hard-working and now retired), disabled vets, etc) are in fact people with a victim mentality?

Mitt says that he garnered his wealth the hard way – he earned it – because at 48-50 years old or so his parents died and he gave away his inheritance. Well, yes – he did earn his money, and good for him. But he received so much of a head start from the circumstances he was born into that he’d have to have been an idiot not to have made a bunch of money. This is not the case for so many Americans. In fact, they are born into circumstances in which success is blocked nearly every way they turn. No one is saying that they should live a life of ease without working for anything, but neither should anyone consider them lazy, shiftless mooches because they got a helping hand in the form of a scholarship, food stamps, or whatever. Mitt’s father, in fact, lifted himself out of poverty with such assistance, and I don’t hear Mitt claiming that his dad was a burden on society.

Jacopo September 21, 2012 at 2:06 pm

That’s an interesting picture, but here’s one of my own:

Also, while you claim the Jeremiah Wright scandal didn’t hurt then-Sen. Obama’s poll numbers, it sure as hell caused a dent in head-to-head match-ups with John McCain in March 2008, according to RCP:

Martin Vandernort September 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

How about the immortal Rick Perry gaffe?

make a difference?

How about Palin’s succession of gaffes (“In what respect, Charlie?”) that wereendlessly parodied?

make a difference?

Yes, of course they did.

Joe September 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

there is evidence of the “gaffe effect”, or more appropriately, the “shoot one’s self in the foot”, e.g., John Edwards and his love child. . . not only did he get out of the election, he fell off the planet. :)

Jarvis Simpson September 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm

The “gaffe” is having an undeniable effect in the polls.

Mahesh December 3, 2012 at 5:12 am

Before people worry about Republican ctadidnaes and their baggage, please remember, Obama is a self-admitted coke snorter!Obama not only admitted that, he admitted smoking dope and inhaling and enjoying it.Obama has been a work-avoider.He’d rather play golf (60+ times so far) play or watch basketball, have or go to cocktail parties, eat out (quite pricy, too!) and travel.Obama has been so ill-informed about his own speeches (much less his own supposed viewpoint) that he even introduced himself once!Obama’s record has been one of utter failure.He does not work well with others, not even with those who used to be on his bus with him.Why did 83 Democrats vote with Republicans against Obama on raising the debt ceiling?They knew he wouldn’t back them up ..they saw it last election.Obama’s regulations are destroying our country’s ability to raise its own food, to drill its own oil, to fish, to get to work, to save, to buy and even to sell (rabbits).Obama has been an embarrassment to this country.Everything from, the police acted stupidly, to talking over the UK’s National Anthem.No amount of so-called baggage will be too much for me to stay home.Personally, I’d love to see the debate between Obama and Gingrich.Reply

Kevin Hill January 1, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Seek professional help immediately.

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