Mitt Romney's secretly recorded comment that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent on the government" and "believe they are victims" isn't the only reason he lost the presidential campaign. But the candidate himself acknowledged after the election that the comments were "very harmful."
He added, "What I said is not what I believe."
But many Republicans still believe it, and the "makers vs. takers" theme has a deep hold on the party. In private conversations, many in the GOP are whispering that Romney was right and that his only mistake was saying it out loud.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say something like, "Well, the half who favor government programs is the half who don't pay any taxes."
This is ridiculous — on many levels.
First, the overwhelming majority of those who don't pay federal income taxes pay a whole variety of other taxes, including state and local taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, sin taxes, and more. They don't feel excluded from sharing the tax burden just because they don't pay one particular tax.
It's also worth noting that these aren't the people pushing for higher taxes. At Rasmussen Reports, our most recent polling shows that people who make $100,000 or more each year are more supportive of higher taxes than those who make less.
Second, the 47 percent who don't pay federal income taxes include large chunks of the Republican base. Many senior citizens fall into this category because their primary income is from Social Security. They don't consider themselves "takers." They paid money into a Social Security system throughout their working lives and now simply expect the government to honor the promises it made.
Third, low-income Americans aren't looking for a handout. Among those who are living in poverty, 81 percent agree that work is the best solution to poverty. Most would rather replace welfare programs with a guaranteed minimum-wage job. Sharing the mainstream view, 69 percent of the poor believe that too many Americans are dependent upon the government.
Sixty-five percent of low-income Americans consider it "very important" for an economy to provide everybody with an opportunity to succeed. Interestingly enough, low-income Americans consider that more important than those who earn more.
But if I had to pick just one number to highlight how bad the 47 percent remark was, it would be this. Just 11 percent of Americans today consider themselves dependent upon government. Sure, some receive a Social Security check or an unemployment check, but that's not dependence upon government. That's cash received in exchange for premiums paid.
If they want to seriously compete for middle-class votes, Republicans need to get over the makers vs. takers mentality. We live in a time when just 35 percent believe the economy is fair to the middle class. Only 41 percent believe it is fair to those who are willing to work hard. Those problems are not created by the poor.
GOP candidates would be well advised to shift their focus from attacking the poor to going after those who are really dependent upon government — the political class, the crony capitalists, the megabanks, and other recipients of corporate welfare.
Scott Rasmussen is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports. He is the author of “Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System,” “In Search of Self-Governance,” and “The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt.” Read more reports from Scott Rasmussen — Click Here Now.