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Romney's '47 Percent' Comments Consistent With His Public Remarks, Expert Says

Romney's '47 Percent' Comments Consistent With His Public Remarks, Expert Says

Politicians from both parties disparage the political intelligence of lower-income and working-class people, says professor Nick Carnes

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Mitt Romney is being criticized for comments made in May in which he characterized 47 percent of the country as government-dependent people who believe they are "victims."

Nicholas Carnes 
Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University  

Carnes's research focuses on political representation and legislation and how politicians' class background influences policy.  

"Gaffes like these rarely decide elections. And why should they? Romney has always run on a conservative economic platform. The comments he made in Boca Raton in May might strike some people as offensive or unpresidential, but they aren't fundamentally out-of-step with what Romney has been saying throughout his campaign about Obama, taxes, government spending, and so on. 

"From day one, Romney has told us that he's a businessman, that he thinks like a businessman, and that he wants government to take a hands-off approach to the economy. The hidden-camera story is racy, and that might mean that some voters who didn't already know where Romney stands on these issues get the message now. What Romney says behind closed doors is telling -- and, to many people, distasteful -- but it isn’t much different from what he's been saying in front of huge crowds in the light of day. Romney wants small government, even it means scrapping the social safety net. That's always been his story, and he's sticking to it.  

"Many observers have compared Romney's remarks to Obama's famous 'cling' comment in 2008. What people disagree about is whether Romney showed more contempt for ordinary Americans than Obama did. Romney concluded that his 'job is not to worry about those people.' Obama said that 'our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's no evidence of that in their daily lives.'  

"They both conjured up a negative stereotype about lower-income and working-class voters. To Obama, the working class in Pennsylvania was hooked on guns and religion. To Romney, the working-class across the country is hooked on government handouts. And although both are flat wrong -- neither one stands up when we look at objective data on American voters -- both narratives are still a part of the vocabulary of U.S. politics, and both resonate with at least some political observers. 

"On both sides of the aisle, it's fashionable in some circles to disparage the political intelligence of lower-income and working-class people. That's a kind of prejudice that we have to start dealing with as a country."

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