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.
The fly in the ointment is a tiny sliver of the population, probably less than one half of one percent, of hyper-wealthy elite liberals who pay taxes and still vote Democratic. And the reason they’re a problem is that this elite clique of socialist millionaires and self-hating high-earners tend to have undue influence over the media narrative, so when they get pissed off by a Romney statement, they can try to paint it as a “gaffe” which offends the nation.
In this case, the instant narrative was that Romney’s statement was so horrible that he just lost the election, since the media promises to repeat Romney’s statement over and over until November 6.
To which I reply: Please do. If Romney just distanced himself from 47% of the electorate, then he drew the remaining 53% closer to him and his statement. And anything that resonates with over 50% of the voters is a winning message. If the media wants to trumpet Romney’s winning message — go for it!
Conversely, when Obama essentially says the opposite — which he does nearly every day with his various permutations of “Spread the wealth around” and “You didn’t build that” — he is alienating the 53%. He’s outside the sweet spot. And yet somehow that media doesn’t consider those Obama’s statements as “gaffes.”
And one final point: it may be that only 53% of Americans pay taxes, but that 53% accounts for a much larger percentage of voters. The poor, the indigent, and minorities always vote in far fewer numbers than the middle and upper classes. So Romney’s “controversial” sentence actually appeals to probably over 60% of the voters. And that’s more than he needs to win.