Mitt Romney has pulled ahead in Florida. However, his long slog hasn’t even begun with the American people.
Romney finally released his tax returns on Thursday, revealing a 2010 income of $27 million and a federal tax rate of 13.9%. What effect, if any, does this information have on the way voters judge Romney? A January 21-24 YouGov national poll, conducted before Romney released the actual figures, reveals a potential liability for Romney: a majority of Americans believe that he is not paying his fair share in taxes. No other candidate elicits views that are so unfavorable. – Mitt Romney’s Tax Problem, by John Sides, Lynn Vavreck and Joshua Tucker
The columns in the graphic above from left to right read: more than fair share; fair share; less than fair share; do not know.
The information is taken from a January 21-24 YouGov national poll, conducted before Romney released the actual figures.
That means it didn’t include the Swiss bank account information, but also that Mr. Romney is amending his financials because it’s complex and some items were inadvertently omitted.
We need to be cautious in interpreting these findings. The information about Romney’s income or tax rate did not affect how respondents evaluated Romney on other dimensions, such as his willingness to stick by his positions, his honesty, or his trustworthiness. It didn’t make respondents more likely to describe him as personally wealthy (most already do so anyway). And it didn’t change whether they believed he cares about the poor or middle class. When the information does move opinions, the shifts aren’t large. Many respondents may already have heard about Romney’s income or tax rate or simply don’t consider those facts germane. The Obama team may find that a campaign that implicitly or explicitly characterizes Romney as a plutocrat isn’t a slam dunk.
Nevertheless, for Romney, there is cause for concern. Just over half of Americans doubt that he pays his fair share in taxes. After hearing about his actual income and tax rate, these people are less likely to think he “cares about people like me”—an attribute on which Romney is disadvantaged relative to Obama and which is a perennial predictor of how people vote. Information about his wealth also leads a larger fraction of Americans to believe he cares about the wealthy, and this belief in turn also reinforces the sense that he does not care about “people like me.” The more Romney’s wealth and taxes are discussed, the more he may seem like someone who cannot relate to ordinary voters. This may explain why, during a time in which his wealth and taxes were in the news, negative views of Romney jumped 20 points among whites with incomes below $50,000.
Romney can’t even take comfort in the distinction that Obama raised in his SOTU address. Americans may not begrudge financial success in theory, but Romney’s wealth leads them to see him as more sympathetic to the wealthy, which could cost him if they then see Romney as less like themselves. Even if Romney were paying a larger share of his income in taxes—what Obama would call his “fair share”—the simple fact of his wealth may be an obstacle.
This is a marketing challenge for Mitt Romney. It puts an extra emphasis and burden on Ann Romney, who is fantastic on the stump and whose personal story is the very definition of courage. His family will be asked to mitigate, through personal stories of their own, the picture of Mitt Romney that’s seen through his inordinate wealth.
In an era of Occupy, which I hope will rev up in the months ahead, the subject of wealth disparity will be in focus.
When you look at the fairness issue juxtaposed against the austerity platform of Mitt Romney, who supports the Paul Ryan budget, it paints a stark picture of a man who wants to be our president, but whose compassion may only be visible through percentages of his charitable giving.