US elections: Romney gets his sums wrong & offends half of America, but he could still win

As Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is caught on camera describing 47% of voters as government-dependent "victims", Obama should not take victory in November's election for granted

Mitt RomneyAP Photo, Charles Dharapak

There is a theme emerging to the US presidential election campaign - what analysts like to call a "narrative". It is one that says the Republican candidate Mitt Romney is doomed, thanks to his tendency to make gaffes and mistakes, intentional or otherwise; and it is one that says Barack Obama needs only to ensure he gets all his core supporters to vote at the polls in November to win a second term in the White House.

The political commentator Ian Leslie acknowledges this, when he says that: "Romney's remarks [about him not caring about 47% of Americans] will play right into a narrative about the Republican candidate that the Obama campaign will hope has been cooking away at the backs of their minds for the last few months: that he is, essentially, Mr Burns from The Simpsons, a rich man who hates everyone except other rich men."

But he goes on to add that: "If Romney loses in November, Republicans will bemoan his tendency to make gaffes. But that would be to massively miss the point. The point is, they need better candidates. A man who writes off nearly half of the nation as deadbeats is not fit to be running for president of the United States. And he was the best of the bunch."

Leslie is careful to say "if" Romney loses, rather than "when". And he's right to. This election is Barack Obama's to lose, not Mitt Romney.

Here's why.

Statistically, Barack Obama should win. All the polls show that he will have enough votes from enough US states to pass the threshold needed to be reelected. According to, one of the best online sources for the latest polling data, Obama is currently forecast to win a total of 332 electoral votes: comfortably over the 270 target.

But these predictions mask the fact that Obama only enjoys very small leads in the states that matter: the swing states.

There are nine of these swing states, and these will decide the outcome of the election. This is because, like here in the UK, huge areas of the country vote for the same party at every election. Only certain states, those that swing between Republicans and Democrats, can have an impact on the result. And of these nine "swing" states, Mitt Romney is currently predicted to only win one: North Carolina.

Clearly this is not enough.

But in the other eight, Obama has either tiny leads or the candidates are tied. There is still enough time in the campaign for this situation to change in Romney's favour. All he needs are the right number of voters to change sides in the right number of states. It all comes down to mathematics.

Unfortunately, mathematics does not appear to be Mr Romney's strongpoint, at least not this week.

When stating 47% of Americans "pay no income tax", he ignored the fact that many of this group of people pay a different kind of tax: payroll tax, meaning they are in employment.

The Washington Post has used 2011 figures to note that these people paid around 15.3% of their income in taxes: higher than the 13.9% that Romney paid.

A further 22% of those people counted with the "47%" were retired and hence not in employment at all.

"83% of those not paying federal income taxes are either working and paying payroll taxes or they're elderly and Romney is promising to protect their benefits because they've earned them," the paper concludes.

The Independent's Guy Adams believes it is too early to tell whether the "47%" gaffe will have an effect on the polls. "But the portion of Americans who do not pay income tax includes many elderly voters, most students, and the vast majority of the recently unemployed. They pay plenty of other taxes, and may now think twice about supporting a candidate who dubs them 'freeloaders'," he writes.

The Week notes that this is "one of many reports to focus on the question of who among the 47% pays tax of any kind. Such questions are dangerous ground for Romney, who has been criticised for failing to release details of his tax affairs prior to 2010."

Josh Barro, in an article for Bloomberg titled 'Today, Mitt Romney lost the election', takes a more unequivocal view: "This is an utter disaster for Romney... Romney is the most opaque presidential nominee since Nixon, and people have been reduced to guessing what his true feelings are. This video provides an answer: He feels that you're a loser. It's not an answer that wins elections."

That may be so, but ultimately it is swing states that win elections in the US, and Romney still has the money and the motivation, if not the momentum, to try and nudge just enough of them into his column to pass the magic mark of 270 seats.

It's not over. Not quite.