Politics

Fact check: Mitt Romney says voters who support Barack Obama are “people who pay no income tax”

Speaking at a Boca Raton fundraiser a few months ago, Mitt Romney said supporters of President Barack Obama are “dependent on government,” “believe that they are victims” and “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”

Their dependence on government is significant, Romney told the group, because Obama “starts out with 48, 49 percent he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.”

Romney is roughly correct about the overall percentage of American who pay no income tax, but is he right that Obama supporters “pay no income tax”? We dug into the numbers to see.

Romney’s figure is close to one from the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, which found that 46 percent of tax filers pay no income tax, versus about 54 percent of tax filers that did have some federal income tax liability. Generally speaking, the elderly and poor are most likely to have no tax liability.

Anti-tax Republicans tend to focus on the federal income tax burden because it helps make their case that the burden falls disproportionately on the wealthy. Because there is a solid basis for this number, we’ve rated it True in the past — at least when it is described correctly.

That qualifier is important. While the 46 percent figure refers to federal income tax, it is not the only tax that Americans pay. Of those who paid no income tax, 28 percent will at least pay federal payroll taxes, which funds Social Security and Medicare and is deducted from every working American’s paycheck. Most of the rest are poor and elderly.

So, Romney would have been right if he said about 47 percent of all Americans don’t pay federal income taxes. But he went further, arguing that those 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes are essentially all Obama supporters. The facts don’t back him up.

It’s tricky to compare taxpaying status with presidential preferences, but there are enough data points to poke some holes in Romney’s argument.

We compared Tax Policy Center data with a recent CBS News-New York Times poll. Among households with below $50,000 in income, 68 percent owed no federal income taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center. The poll showed Obama led in this group, 58 percent to 37 percent.

For households between $50,000 and $100,000, 11 percent paid no federal income taxes. Romney led in this group, 50 percent to 47 percent. And for households above $100,000, 2 percent owed no federal income taxes. Romney led in this category, 57 percent to 41 percent.

Put another way, Obama is expected to win millions of votes from people who do pay federal income taxes, and Romney is expected to win millions of votes from people who do not pay federal income taxes.

The Tax Foundation has found some state-by-state patterns that are problematic for Romney’s claim. It tallied the states with the highest percentages of non-income-tax-paying residents. The 10 states with the highest rates of non-tax-payers are mostly ones that Romney has in the bag — Texas, Idaho, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. And several states with the lowest rates are solidly in Obama’s camp, including Minnesota, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Combined, that’s enough in our minds to debunk this claim. We rate it False.

This item has been edited for print. Read the full story at PolitiFact.com.

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