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 Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.