Romney's 47% made up of seniors, students, military members - KMSP-TV

Romney's 47% made up of seniors, students, military members

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Mitt Romney's campaign tried to hit the restart button on Monday, but by Tuesday, they were already sidetracked by secret video of some "off the cuff" comments the candidate made before a group of wealthy donors.

Since the hidden-camera footage surfaced, Romney has been trying to explain a statement that seems to give a broad dismissal to nearly half the country, saying they would never vote for him because they don't pay taxes and therefore don't' understand his message about lowering them.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them," Romney said, later elaborating to say people on the dole "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."

So who are these people, and do those numbers add up? University of St. Thomas finance professor David Vang says it is true that 47 percent of Americans don't' pay any federal income tax, but that's hardly the whole story.

"People need to understand federal income tax is not the same as total tax paid," Vang explained.

Most of the 47 percent Romney mentioned still pay federal pay roll taxes -- but half of them are seniors who draw on Social Security. Students and military members also fall into that percentage swath.

If you take out those groups, only 8 percent of the U.S. population does not pay any federal income tax. Most make under $20,000 a year and they get tax breaks that came when Ronald Reagan's tax reform took millions of the working poor off the tax rolls. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spearheaded the child tax credit.

Of course, the rich get their tax breaks too. In fact, an estimated 35,000 Americans who make more than $200,000 don't pay federal income taxes either -- mainly from charitable and hospital deductions, not to mention capital gains.

Romney tried to explain his message about the 47 percent in an interview with FOX News on Tuesday, after Neil Cavuto asked him to respond to allegations that he "all but called them moochers."

"No, I'm talking about the perspective of individuals who I'm not likely to get to support me," Romney responded.

Still not backing down, Romney said he was making a strategic point that he's not likely to get votes from that group -- although that may not be entirely true. A map from the Tax Foundation shows the states with the highest and lowest percentages of people who with no tax obligation, and the states with the highest percentage are predominantly red, southern states.

Romney's statement also contradicts history, since lower-income voters and the elderly largely voted for McCain in the last election.

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