In barely one week’s time, Mitt Romney’s campaign message has been hijacked by an odd assortment of ambiguous numbers which appear to have trumped his “referendum on Obama” message entirely. Those numbers are 14.1%, $250,000 and 47%.
Romney released his tax returns in a late-Friday document dump revealing that he paid an effective Federal income tax rate of 14.1% on 2011 income. That figure raised pundits’ eyebrows across the board because examination of his 2011 return revealed that he could have paid significantly less than that. He did not claim all the deductions he could have used to reduce his tax bill further. Romney had locked himself into paying at least 14% because of casual remarks he had made previously about his anticipated tax liability. That 14% also grabbed a lot of public attention because it is significantly less than typical tax rates paid by many if not most Americans considering themselves to be middle class.
Simultaneously, Romney further pursued an ongoing fixation with the income threshold number $250,000. That is the upper end of what Romney considers to qualify as a middle class income. In his words, “Middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.” $250,000 also is the estimated minimum tax break he would give under his tax plan to persons making over $1 million. It’s a key number that crops up in other tax calculation contexts as well. In the context of political campaigning, the number currently is coming to signify incongruities and unfairness in tax burdens. Romney’s use of the figure is reinforcing that mental association.
Then there’s the 47%. Romney estimated that 47% of voters were beyond the reach of his message when he spoke at that now infamous fundraiser in May. Whether he meant that exactly 47% paid no taxes by his calculation, or that exactly 47% did or would vote for Obama – the precise meaning of his measure is technically ambiguous. Collective wisdom quickly pooled into a public perception, though, that by his remarks he revealed a derogatory feeling about half of the American population. Almost instantly, the revelation of his “47% remarks” political commentary was rife with renewed discussion of the 1% versus 99% too.
As often as Romney has decried so-called “class warfare” during this campaign year, he seemed to reinforce it this month more than ever by giving it memorable numerical parameters that will stick in the public mind well past Election Day.