Romney says 47% of US voters are "dependent" and will never vote for him

Secret video reveals Republican candidate describing 47% of voters as "victims" who will always vote for Obama.

If you're running for president of the United States, it's advisable not to dismiss 47% of the electorate as scroungers who will never vote for you, especially if you're a multi-millionaire who paid just 13.9% in tax in 2010. But that's exactly what Mitt Romney has done. Mother Jones has just released a secretely recorded video in which the Republican candidate is shown telling a private donor dinner that 47% of US voters are "dependent upon government" and will vote for Obama "no matter what".

Asked by one donor how he could win in November, Romney replied:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax ... [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

It's compassionless conservatism in its purest form.

You might reasonably argue that those offended probably wouldn't vote for Romney anyway (one often hears this sort of rhetoric from the Tea Party) and, therefore, that the tactless Republican had a point. But it's likely that the video will alienate many of the floating voters he needs to win over if he's to catch Obama in the polls, while also motivating disillusioned Democrats to vote. Among those who pay no income tax, for instance, are millions of pensioners (the most likely group to vote), whom one assumes won't take kindly to being described as "victims" and dependents, as well as students and the disabled, none of whom can be described as scroungers. At a time of economic stagnation, it's also unwise to imply that the unemployed, many of whom will have paid tax in the past (often at a higher rate than Romney), simply chose not to work.

With some success, the Democrats have portrayed Romney as a candidate with little concern for anyone but the wealthy - now they have all the proof they require. Worse, the video suggests he is an insincere man who says one thing in public and another behind closed doors, a fatal impression for any politician to create.

Here's how the Obama campaign responded tonight:

It’s shocking that a candidate for President of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as ‘victims,’ entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives. It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.

Update: Mother Jones has just released another secret Romney video, this time featuring a series of ill-advised comments from the "former presidential hopeful" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Asked by one donor how the "Palestinian problem" could be solved, Romney replied that the Palestinians had "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish". He added: "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said 47% of US voters "believe that they are victims". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.