Mitt Romney recently said that 47% of the population pay no taxes while still receiving government benefits. This likely alienated the 47%, who Romney rightly noted are mostly voting for Obama. But it thrilled the 53% who do pay taxes. Because that 53% are sick and tired of moochers calling the shots.
Every statement any politician makes inspires some percentage of the population while alienating the rest. This is unavoidable. The trick is to find the right balance — the sweet spot is to aim somewhere above 50% and below 90%.
Why below 90%? Why not make statements that inspire everyone? Because when promises and speeches become overly broad, they quickly become meaningless and bland. A politician who announces “I like ice cream; don’t you like ice cream too?” isn’t going to win any votes, because the statement is uncontroversial to the point of banality.
Just below that level are the shallow populists, who generally make statements that attempt to please 75% – 90% of the voters, but at the cost of being not particularly believable. “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” sounds very nice in theory, but at this stage in history, vague upbeat promises raise as much skepticism as enthusiasm.
At the other end of the scale, saying things that piss off over 50% of the population is not a wise move for any politician — at least any politician who needs voter approval. Sure, a dictator can get away with seizing all private property and drafting all adults into a pointless war, because he isn’t trying to please anyone and doesn’t need votes to stay in power. Politicians in democracies and republics tend to avoid unpopular moves for this reason.
And so that leaves us with the real sweet spot, between 50% and 75%. Any statement from any politician which inspires or pleases between 50% and 75% of the public can rightfully be assessed as a smart political move.
So when Romney drew a line in the sand between the taxpayers and the non-taxpayers, he was in the sweet spot, because it made him less popular with the 47% of non-taxpayers and more popular with the tax-paying 53%.
Furthermore, he was also correct in his analysis that Obama’s support largely comes from that 47%, as many demographic analyses have shown. The “We want free stuff” crowd votes Democratic, and the “I’m grumpy about paying all those taxes” crowd votes Republican.