Analysis: How Romney's "Gift" Theory Misses the Mark

Romney blamed his loss on Obama's "gifts" to Latinos and other groups.

November 15, 2012, 3:13 PM

Nov 15, 2012— -- On a call with campaign donors on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blamed his loss partly on policy items or "gifts" -- that President Barack Obama supported aimed at core constituencies, including Hispanic, young, and black voters.

"What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked," Romney said, according to audio of the call obtained by ABC News.

Romney spoke at length about how Obama's strategy was particularly effective among Latino voters, arguing that they were drawn in by the president's healthcare law, his support for comprehensive immigration reform, and the Obama campaign's superior turnout effort. Those factors, according to Romney, helped do him in; particularly in Florida where Hispanic voters swung for Obama in greater numbers than they did four years ago.

"He gave them a big gift on immigration with the DREAM Act amnesty program, which was obviously very, very popular with Hispanic voters, and then number two was Obamacare," Romney said.

Romney said that "Obamacare was massive" for "any lower-income Hispanic family … For the Hispanic household, my guess is [median income] is lower than that, maybe it's forty thousand a year. For a home earning let's say thirty thousand a year, free health care, which is worth about ten thousand dollars a year, I mean is massive, it's huge.

"It's a proven political strategy, which is giving a bunch of money to a group and, guess what, they'll vote for you," he added. "Immigration we can solve, but the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with."

Romney's comments come at a time when Republicans are doing some soul searching about how they can better appeal to groups that strongly favored Obama, including Latinos and young people.

Other leaders in the GOP have rejected Romney's comments, indicating that the party is beginning to put more distance between itself and its presidential nominee. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called the remarks "absolutely wrong" and said "we have got to stop dividing American voters," according to reports.

Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist, dubbed Romney's comments "cynical" and described them as a misleading excuse for why he lost.

"What he is advocating for the GOP is precisely what conservatives accuse big government of doing to minority communities: Telling them they can't succeed — that the system is rigged — that 'the man' will keep them down, no matter how hard they try," he wrote at the Daily Caller. "This is bad for individuals' souls, and it's also bad for political parties."

So, exactly what about Romney's "gift" claims are off? Let's break them down.

1. "Free Stuff"

While Romney portrayed Latinos as a group that's very receptive to "free stuff," the community actually places a strong emphasis on hard work and entrepreneurship.

According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, a higher percentage of Latinos believe that hard work can get them ahead when compared to the general public.

The same study showed that three quarters (75 percent) of Latinos agreed that most people are willing to get ahead if they are willing to work hard. By contrast, 58 percent of all voters say hard work will bring success and 40 percent say that hard work does not necessarily guarantee success. Only 22 percent of Latinos think that hard work is no guarantee they will get ahead.

When asked why they came to the United States 55 percent of Latino immigrants said they came for economic opportunity.

There's also the fact that, during the past decade Hispanic people started businesses at a faster rate than the average American. The number of Hispanic-owned firms jumped by 44 percent between 2002 and 2007, more than twice the national rate of 18 percent during that same period, according to Census data. And in 2007, Hispanic-owned businesses generated $345.2 billion in sales.

At the same time, Latinos are more likely than members of the general public to support a big government that provides more services (75 percent, compared to 41 percent), according to Pew. While the data shows that the community strongly believes in hard work and free enterprise, the average Latino household was hit hardest by the economic recession and they use public assistance programs like Medicaid at a higher rate than the general population.

2. Obamacare

Romney said, "in order to get Hispanic voters, what the president did we would be very reluctant to do … [he] put in place Obamacare which basically is ten thousand dollars a family."

The Affordable Care Act is expected to have a disproportionate impact on the Latino community, but that's because proportionately it has a larger number of uninsured people than the general population. Three in ten Latinos last year lacked health insurance, according to Census data, almost three times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.

The law expands access to healthcare through the individual mandate, which requires that a vast majority of Americans purchase their own health insurance or pay a fine. Subsidies and tax credits are available for people who cannot find affordable private insurance (mostly those who live near or below the federal poverty line). These provisions would not necessarily make health insurance free. That means poor individuals and families would still be responsible for paying some healthcare expenses themselves, but would also receive financial assistance from the government. So it's not exactly a gift, as Romney suggested.

In fact, the reason this would impact Latinos most is because that group's median household income among families in 2011 was $38,624 and their poverty rate was at 25 percent. The overall poverty rate last year was 15 percent and the median household income was $50,054.

In all, the 19-percentage point gap in insurance coverage between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics could be cut by one quarter because of the law, according to a May 2012 study published in Health Affairs.

3. Immigration

Romney said on the call, "Obama gave them a big gift on immigration with the DREAM Act amnesty program, which was obviously very, very popular with Hispanic voters."

Obama failed to address comprehensive immigration reform during his first term, but he did enact the deferred action program in June 2011 that granted temporary relief to certain young undocumented immigrants.

The program allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and are younger than 30 the opportunity to apply for a temporary, two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation. In order to qualify, immigrants must also prove to the federal government they have no criminal record, have lived in the U.S. for five consecutive years, are still in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military. These individuals can also apply for work permits.

More than 1.4 million could be eligible for the deferred action program, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, but the latest data show only 180,000 have applied and 4,600 have been accepted. This is because the program is not easy to navigate.

The proposal, however, did appear to boost enthusiasm for President Obama. Fifty-eight percent of Latino voters nationally said it made them more enthusiastic about him, while 32 percent said it made no difference, according to Latino Decisions.

But Romney's stances on the subject also appeared to fuel his poor performance among Hispanics. Romney opposed the deferred action program, arguing that the president's action would make it more difficult to enact a legislative solution for undocumented youth. The Republican candidate also said he would end the program and also adopted tough positions on immigration enforcement, such as "self-deportation."

Fifty-seven percent of Latino voters said his immigration policies made them feel less enthusiastic about him, while 27 percent said they made no difference, per Latino Decisions.

On the call Romney admitted that he was not as good on the issues as Obama when it comes to Latinos, but reiterated that Obama's "gifts" and turnout effort helped him tremendously.

"What'd we do with the Hispanic community was not as popular, obviously, we talked tough on immigration and said we weren't going to give amnesty, and of course we were going to repeal Obamacare, so on the issues we were not good," he said. "And then of course they followed on not just giving the Hispanic community things they wanted, but a very good turnout effort."

In the end, one can agree or disagree over whether Obama's policies are the right ones. But Romney's worldview divides the "takers" and "makers" along demographic lines, and that may explain why he failed to offer an alternative vision of government that resonated among these voters.

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