Perhaps you've heard about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income tax. That statistic (actually 46.4 percent), from a 2011 report by the Tax Policy Center, took on a life of its own this week, thanks to a covertly recorded video of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney telling wealthy donors in Florida that those 47 percent of voters are a bunch of government-dependent "takers" who will never support him. Romney has since clarified that he's for "the 100 percent of America." But of course, this is hardly the first numerical grouping seized on by the media this election cycle. Here, a guide to some of the recent fractions and factions that have entered our political lexicon:
1. The 47 percenters
The 47 percent statistic became a national obsession this week, along with the Romney video in which he writes off that half of the electorate as moochers who are incapable of being persuaded. But this figure has actually been a staple of the Right in the Tea Party era. Even though the number includes lots of senior citizens and working families, many of whom pay state, sales, and federal payroll taxes, it works politically, says David Frum at The Daily Beast, because "when a politician or a broadcaster talks about 47 percent in 'dependency,' the image that swims into many white voters' minds is not their mother in Florida, her Social Security untaxed, receiving Medicare benefits vastly greater than her lifetime tax contributions," but rather "minorities on welfare."
2. The 53 percenters
The corollary to the 47 percenters is the 53 percent who did pay federal income tax last year. The "53 percenters" meme dates back to October 2011, as a counterpunch to the Occupy Wall Street–linked website "We Are the 99 Percent." The inaugural post of the "We Are the 53 Percent" Tumblr, by RedState's Erick Erickson, spells out the point pretty clearly: "Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain." The site has real-life people telling why the 47 percenters are wrong, says Shaila Dewan at The New York Times. But the odd thing is that "the 53 Percent do not seem, by and large, to be doing much better than the 99 Percent."
3. The 2 minuters
Mother Jones' David Corn posted the "full secret video" of Romney's remarks at the Florida fundraiser, but conservative bloggers soon pointed out that a snippet was missing. Corn said that yes, "at most, one to two minutes" were not recorded because, according to the man who filmed it, the recording device "inadvertently shut down or timed-out" for that period. Some on the Right accused Corn of manipulating the video to make Romney look bad, and the Romney campaign sent out an email decrying "debunked" and "selectively edited" sections of the tape. The result is the "two-minuters," a motley collection of outraged conservatives.
4. The 99 percenters
In September 2011, the word "occupy" took on a whole new meaning when nationwide protests spun out of the months-long Occupy Wall Street encampment. And along with the Occupiers came the "99 percenters," with their rebuke of a political and financial system that has allowed a third of the nation's wealth to trickle up to the richest 1 percent. The Occupy-aligned Tumblr "We Are the 99 Percent" boosted the statistic into the national dialogue, with stories from people who say they are working hard, playing by the rules and still drowning in student loans, health insurance, and sometimes despair. "We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything," the Tumblr states. "We are the 99 percent."
5. The 6 percenters
These are, politically speaking, the most coveted people in America: The undecided voters. Figures vary on exactly how many voters truly haven't picked between Romney and President Obama, but everyone agrees that there aren't many. UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck and John Sides of George Washington University found in December 2011 that only 6 percent of voters were on the fence. They've been following up with those swingers every month since, Vavreck says at The New York Times, and while about half have gotten off the fence, an equal number "have become undecided" again. That means, less than 50 days before the election, the share of uncommitted voters is holding steady "at approximately 6 percent; it's just not the same 6 percent on any particular day."
6. The 0 percenters
Obama won about 96 percent of black voters in 2008, and a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has him keeping a similarly heady 94 percent this year. But the real eye-opener in the poll is Romney's support among blacks: 0 percent. "No, that was not a misprint," says Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. While Sen. John McCain won 4 percent of black voters while running against the first black president, this "poll showed Romney getting zero black support. Nada. Zilch. Bupkis." That led to complaints from black conservatives, and the inevitable Twitter hashtag #WeAreThe0Percent.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- If Scotland leaves the union, is Northern Ireland next?
- The impossible promise at the heart of Scotland's campaign for independence
- America is doomed! (And other thoughts on our gloomy historical moment.)
Subscribe to the Week