09/18/2012 01:23 pm ET

Fact Check: Mitt Romney's '47 Percent' Claims Wildly Inaccurate

Mitt Romney's now infamous comments about half of America made at a May fundraiser are not only offensive, but also inaccurate.

In a video taken at the fundraiser and leaked on Monday, Romney claimed that 47 percent of Americans are Obama voters that "pay no income tax," "are dependent upon government" and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

Romney's 47 percent figure lumped together separate groups that have little relation to one another. Most Americans do pay taxes: The poorest fifth of Americans paid an effective tax rate of 17 percent last year, and the second-poorest fifth paid an effective tax rate of 21 percent, when factoring in payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, among others, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

It is true that 46 percent of American households did not pay federal income taxes last year, according to the Tax Policy Center. But that number is unusually high, in part because of the recession -- and a majority of that 46 percent still paid payroll taxes. Only 18 percent of American households paid no income taxes and no payroll taxes last year. It is largely low-income seniors and very poor people that legally don't pay federal income taxes or payroll taxes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Tax Policy Center.

It was also inaccurate for Romney to claim that those who don't pay federal income taxes would vote for President Obama "no matter what." Nearly all states with a high percentage of Americans that don't pay federal income taxes vote Republican in presidential elections, according to the Washington Post.

Moreover, Republican policy -- on the part of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush -- has pushed to move poorer people off of the federal income tax rolls, as noted by the Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Newsweek's Matt Zeitlin.

As for entitlements, contrary to Romney's portrayal, more than 90 percent of entitlement benefits go to the elderly, seriously disabled or members of working households, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Romney stood by his comments on Monday, telling reporters that though his comments were "not elegantly stated," Obama's approach is "attractive to people who are not paying taxes."



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