Who are Romney's "47 per cent"?

UPDATE: and where are they?

Mitt Romney delivered a knock to his campaign last night after he said that Barack Obama's voters were the 47 per cent of Americans who are “dependent on government”, do not pay tax and “believe that they are victims”.

He has since described his comments as “not elegantly stated” and “off the cuff”, but hasn't retracted them: leaving untouched his picture of 47 per cent of America as tax-avoiding scroungers.

The most obvious spot-the-difference with this picture is that nearly every American in work pays many forms of tax - including social security tax, petrol tax and sales tax. The rest are mostly looking for work, falling back on part time jobs. The tax Romney is talking about is income tax: the "47 per cent " number comes from the Tax Policy Centre, which broke down the statistic to find that half the number fall below the poverty threshold required to pay the tax, and the other half are entitled to bypass it, because, for example, they are pensioners. The New York Times summarised the analysis:

It found that about half of the households that do not pay federal income tax do not pay it because they are simply too poor. The Tax Policy Center gives as an example a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 a year: The household would pay no federal income tax because its standard deduction and other exemptions would simply erase its liability.

The other half, the Tax Policy Center found, consists of households taking advantage of tax credits and other provisions, mostly support for senior citizens and low-income working families.

Romey's 47 per cent remark touches on a truth, but is not one. These are not people shirking their tax responsibilites, but people who are not and should not be required to pay income tax in the first place. 

UPDATE 18/09/12, 14.30:

The Tax Foundation have published a map showing where the 47 per cent live (via Business Insider) - and it's the red states. Most of them come from a Republican base: of the 10 states with the highest proportion of non-income tax payers, nine are Republican. 

Mitt Romney and wife. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the arts in north London on September 1, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Can Labour MPs force Corbyn to bring back shadow cabinet elections?

It is not up to the parliamentary party whether the contests are reintroduced. 

Soon after Jeremy Corbyn became the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, it was reported that he intended to bring back shadow cabinet elections. But as I later wrote, that's not the case. Corbyn has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). As he wrote in the NS: "Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one."

Now, ahead of his likely victory a week on Saturday, Corbyn is under pressure from some MPs to reverse his stance. Barry Sheerman, the former education select commitee chair, told me that he wanted a "serious discussion" within the PLP about the return of the elections. While some support their reinstatement on principled grounds, others recognise that there is a tactical advantage in Corbyn's opponents winning a mandate from MPs. His hand would be further weakened (he has the declared support of just 14 of his Commons colleagues). 

But their reinstatement is not as simple as some suggest. One senior MP told me that those demanding their return "had not read the rule book". Miliband's decision to scrap the elections was subsequently approved at party conference meaning that only this body can revive them. A simple majority of MPs is not enough. 

With Corbyn planning to have a new team in place as soon as possible after his election, there is little prospect of him proposing such upheaval at this point. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has attracted much attention by refusing to rule out joining the left-winger's shadow cabinet if he changes his stances on nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation (a lengthy list). Umunna is unlikely to remain on the frontbench but having previously pledged not to serve, he now recognises that there is value in being seen to at least engage with Corbyn. Were he to simply adopt a stance of aggression, he would risk being blamed if the backbencher failed. It is one example of how the party's modernisers recognise they need to play a smarter game. I explore this subject further in my column in tomorrow's NS

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.