47 (percent): A prime number in politics and a whole lot else

 

McClatchy Newspapers

What’s up with the number 47?

It’s been a frequent figure in the presidential campaign.

Mitt Romney said in a secretly recorded speech to wealthy donors that 47 percent of Americans – in his words, supporters of President Barack Obama – don’t pay income taxes, feel they deserve government handouts and don’t take responsibility for their lives.

Obama has said that Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation when Romney was governor.

Those two things may not be entirely true, but these things are:

Obama was 47 when he took the oath of office in 2009.

His birthplace of Hawaii is 47th in land area.

His vice president, Joe Biden, is the 47th to hold that office.

Romney was born in 1947, and he was 47 when he challenged the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in 1994 (and 47 plus 47 equals 94).

A Gallup national poll taken this week has Romney up over Obama 49-47 percent. A Pew survey that also shows Romney leading was taken – get this – on Oct. 4-7.

State voter ID laws have been a big flashpoint this year, 47 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Obama’s “Buffett Rule” would raise $47 billion over 10 years by collecting a minimum 30 percent tax on the highest incomes.

You can become a millionaire like Romney by playing Classic Lotto 47 in Michigan, the state where he was born and his father was governor and also ran a car company.

But it isn’t just presidential politics:

The Bible credits Jesus with 47 miracles.

The Declaration of Independence has 47 sentences.

There are 47 strings on a concert harp.

The number also figures into recent scandals. British police have arrested 47 people in the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal. A Secret Service agent created an international incident when he got into an argument with a Colombian prostitute over $47.

It wasn’t the cab fare.

Some people are convinced that 47 is the quintessential random number. So what exactly is the significance?

Absolutely nothing, said David Banks, a professor in the department of statistical sciences at Duke University. Banks called it an example of “attention bias.”

“Suppose you happen to see two four-leaf clovers in one day, so you see a third clover and you think it is amazing,” Banks said. “It’s not that the day is any different, you were just paying more attention.”

But 47’s a prime number. Surely that means something.

“There’s nothing special about 47 that I’m aware of,” Banks said. “The fact that it’s prime is incidental, not relevant.”

Don’t tell that to alumni of Pomona College, in Claremont, Calif. On the 1,500-student campus near Los Angeles, 47 is the magic number.

“A couple of students decided to do this tongue-in-cheek project to prove the number 47 is more frequently recurrent in nature than any other number,” said Mark Wood, senior director of communications.

They found more than they expected: Pomona College is on Exit 47 from the San Bernardino Freeway, the top row of an organ on campus has 47 pipes, and 47 students were enrolled at Pomona at the time of its first graduating class in 1894 (there’s 94 again).

But back to the campaign for a second.

Florida’s 29 electoral votes and Ohio’s 18 could add up to victory for Obama or Romney. Do the math.

Email: ctate@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @tatecurtis

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - This June 3, 2014 file photo show Iowa Republican Senate candidate, State Sen. Joni Ernst speaking in Des Moines, Iowa. Ernst will take a break from campaigning for two weeks to take part in active duty training for the Iowa National Guard. But before lacing up her boots, Ernst has recorded the Republicans’ national radio address.

    Senate candidate records GOP address, then deploys

    A new item on Lt. Col. Joni Ernst's checklist as she packed up for two weeks of annual training with the Iowa National Guard: denounce the health care law in the weekly Republican radio address.

  •  
President Barack Obama, right, is escorted by Air Force Col. David Almand, the 89th Airlift Wing commander, as he walks to board Marine One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, July 10,  2014.

    Obama cites letter writers in pitching economy

    President Barack Obama says his travels beyond the capital and his visits with selected letter writers demonstrate the need for Congress to act on his stalled economic agenda.

  •  
This photo taken June 30, 2014 shows North Carolina Republican Congressional candidate David Rouzer, right, talking with campaign aide Tyler Foote in Raleigh, N.C. Rouzer is favored to win the House seat that North Carolina Democrat Mike McIntyre is surrendering after 18 years. Democrats long have claimed that Republicans abused their legislative powers to elect a disproportionate number of U.S. House members. A court in Florida is lending credence to their complaint, and North Carolina Democrats are fighting a GOP-drawn map in state court. The battles are shining a new light on the fiercely partisan practice of gerrymandering, in which state officials draw congressional districts to help their party. Both parties have done it for decades, but Republicans refined the practice in 2011, a year after they won control of numerous state governments preparing to redraw congressional maps based on the 2010 census. It’s one reason Republicans hold a solid House majority even though Americans cast 1.4 million more votes for Democratic House candidates than for GOP House candidates in 2012.

    GOP keeps House edge in Democratic-leaning states

    Democrats have long claimed that Republicans abused their legislative powers to elect a disproportionate number of U.S. House members. Now a Florida court is lending credence to their complaint.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category