Mitt Romney's '47%' comment alienated undecided voters: poll
By James Rainey
September 25, 2012, 11:57 a.m.
Mitt Romney’s semantic misadventure with the “47%” helped alienate some of the narrow band of undecided voters whom the Republican needs to beat President Obama in November. That’s the single strongest sentiment registered this week by previously undecided voters interviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
None of nine uncommitted voters from one month ago said in follow-up interviews that they had warmed to former Massachusetts Gov. Romney. Five said they now planned to vote for Obama, two said they leaned toward the president, one remained entirely undecided and the ninth said he would not vote at all.
Although the tiny sample is far from statistically significant, it offers a glimpse of a small group of voters expected to determine the outcome of the Nov. 6 vote. The same voters had told the USC Annenberg/Los Angeles Times Poll on Politics and the Press just a month ago that they were open to both candidates. In the intervening month — which included the two political conventions, Romney’s 47% comment and unrest in the Mideast — not a lot of positive news accumulated for Romney.
Of the nine who described their feelings about the candidates in detailed phone interviews, six knew about Romney’s comment — captured on a hidden-camera video — that 47% of the American people act like “victims” who are dependent on government and are “unwilling to take responsibility for their lives.”
Most raised the Romney comment themselves, without being asked. They generally found the words so off-putting that they said they would no longer consider voting for the multimillionaire private equity investor. Only one voter said he had heard the Romney “victim” comment and still might vote for the Republican. Even that voter — a Navy veteran who lives in near Orlando, Fla. — said he is leaning toward supporting Obama.
“I am one of 47%, even though I pay income taxes,” said Michael, a 27-year-old sandwich shop manager in Indianapolis. “I don’t make $100,000 to $250,000 a year that he thinks is middle class. I feel like Romney is so far disconnected from what the average American actually is. It’s like he doesn’t care.”
Michael, who is married to a dog groomer and has a 1-year-old, said he typically votes Republican but can’t get past what he viewed as Romney’s contempt for half the population.
“He was in this room with all these other fat cats just like him and you heard all this snarky laughter from all these guys who have no idea what it’s like to spend 50 or 60 hours a week on your feet, working with your hands, trying to get ahead.
“I don’t want the presidential candidates to be average Americans,” he concluded, “but I at least want them to understand what exactly … I am going through so they don’t look like a ... in front of everyone.” Michael used a word to describe Romney we don’t publish at The Times.
No other event since the USC-Times poll in August made such a strong impression on the undecided voters. They had little or nothing to say about Romney's and Obama’s performances at the back-to-back nominating conventions in late August and early September.
Jeannette, a public school teacher in Michigan, said the Romney remark convinced her “he doesn’t know anything about real people.”
Romney had singled out people who pay no federal income taxes as part of the group that is purportedly dependent on the government and unwilling to take personal responsibility. The interviews with the previously undecided voters showed that even those who do pay federal taxes did not like what they heard.
Tim, 57, said he and his wife had “worked all our lives and played by the rules.” Though he voted for Ronald Reagan and considered Romney, Tim said he now feels “threatened by this person and what he is liable to do.”
“It just validated things I had felt about him before,” said Tim, a software company employee who lives near Minneapolis. He said he had many relatives who fell into the 47% of non-federal income tax payers but that “they had worked all their lives and paid taxes and now they are retired. He didn’t take that into account.”
He said he had already begun to have doubts about Romney because of the Republican’s hasty criticism of President Obama following the attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya and Egypt. Romney accused Obama of apologizing for American values and being more sympathetic with those who attacked the U.S. than with the victims.
“It made me think of how the world looked at George W. Bush as a buckaroo — shoot first and ask questions later,” Tim said. “My gosh. Comments like that don’t help and they reveal the character of a person.”
Evelyn of Norwich, Conn., said she voted for Obama in 2008 but that things had gotten so bad with the economy that she considered Romney. Then she heard the comment about the 47%.
Evelyn, 59, out of work for two years after losing her job as a substance abuse counselor — felt the Republican had insulted people just like her. “It was like, ‘I have heard enough,’” she said. “I am not going to put my trust in this guy. At least with Obama, we know what we have got. But with the other guy I really don’t know.
“It was like he was saying ‘To heck with the poor people, to heck with children, to heck with the elderly and the disabled,’” said Evelyn, who is struggling to hold on to her home while working just one day a week.
Undecided voters have become harder and harder to find. A few who talked to the USC-Times pollsters a month ago have now left that category. Tim, Jeannette, Michael and Evelyn had some doubts about President Obama, but they don’t match the unease that Romney sowed about himself. Romney’s 47% jab might have appealed to his big-money friends in Florida. But for another group of Americans, it ended their willingness to consider putting Mitt Romney in the White House.