By Bernie Becker and Peter Schroeder - 09/18/12 06:34 PM EDT
Large chunks of voters who don’t have an income tax liability vote for Democrats, recent studies and figures suggest, but the issue isn’t as clear-cut as Mitt Romney made it seem in remarks at a private fundraiser this spring.
Many of these voters are senior citizens who are more likely to vote for Republicans. Others don’t pay an income tax because of deductions championed by Republican lawmakers.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney said at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., according to a leaked videotape revealed by the liberal magazine Mother Jones.
Romney said this 47 percent are with Obama, are “dependent upon government” and “believe that they are victims” who are “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
The use of the 47 percent figure reflects the 46.4 percent of households or individuals who did not owe an income tax in 2011, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Almost 80 percent of those individuals and families made less than $30,000, the analysis estimates.
Exit polls from 2008 back Romney’s argument that many of those people are more likely to vote for Obama, though it is far from universal.
About three in four voters making less than $15,000 a year backed the president, according to exit polls. But only about six in 10 voters making between $15,000 and $30,000 voted for Obama.
In addition, about 37.9 million households or individuals don’t owe the income tax after using one or more of the tax breaks in the code. Of those taxpayers, 44 percent used tax credits and deductions that benefit the elderly, including a more robust standard deduction and the ability to exclude at least some Social Security benefits.
In presidential elections over the last four decades, Republicans have more often than not won a majority among older voters. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won 51 percent of voters 60 and older in 2008, exit polls found, the only age group among which he won a majority.
A New York Times/CBS News poll released this month also gave Romney a 15-percentage-point edge with voters 65 and older.
Around 30 percent of those whose income tax liability was erased by tax breaks used credits like the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, which have been championed by Republican presidents and social conservative groups in the past.
A 2010 Tax Foundation study also suggested that many of those who don't have an income tax liability actually live in states that tend to vote Republican.
Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of filers that did not have an income tax liability in 2008, eight voted for McCain.
At the other end of the spectrum, Obama captured seven of the 10 states with the lowest share of filers that didn’t owe federal income taxes.
The Tax Foundation study did not account for the millions of people in the United States who earn so little that they don't even have to file a tax return, and did not attempt to distinguish how filers without a income tax liability voted.