There’s a secret video going around the web showing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney writing off the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who, he says, pay no income tax, because they will all vote for President Obama. Maybe you’ve heard about it.
The video, though recorded without Romney’s knowledge or consent, doesn’t prove that he believes everyone who doesn’t pay income taxes are default Obama voters. It only suggests that his donors do. Indeed, attacking the 47 percent for being lackadaisical do-nothings is a narrative that has been developing among conservatives for some time.
But are 47 percent of Americans really paying no income taxes? And who are these 47 percent? Where do they hail from?
The answer to the first question seems to be yes. According to the Tax Policy Center, about 47 percent of Americans didn’t pay income taxes in 2011. Getting deeper into the numbers we see that about two-thirds of that 47 percent pay payroll tax, and almost all of the rest are either elderly (read: retired and collecting Social Security) or are members of households making less that $20,000 a year.
The Tax Foundation has drawn up a handy map of the distribution of “nonpayers” across the country, and it shows that of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of nonpayers eight are red states won by McCain in 2008. In fact, most of these states rest squarely in the Bible Belt. As David Graham pointed out over at The Atlantic, “the map of states with the highest level of poverty resembles this map fairly closely.”
Simply, to equate the 47 percent with Obama voters is wrong. The map above would suggest that something closer to the opposite is true, if not for the fact that low-income people — who make up such a large fraction of the 47 percent — are more likely to vote Democrat, even in states that are traditionally red. Still, whatever the electoral split in the 47 percent, it’s at least certain that a good many are Republican.