Makers and Takers

by Ramesh Ponnuru

As Patrick Brennan noted last night, I wrote an article for NR last year challenging the theory that the nearly half of the population that does not pay federal income taxes is a constituency for bigger government, a theory I called “the freeloader myth.”

At Bloomberg View today, I tackle a related theory: that the reason this election is so close is that so many Americans have become dependent on federal benefits.

 

As an explanation for electoral trends, though, this theory doesn’t hold up.

One major reason for the growth of the federal government in recent years has been that entitlement spending per beneficiary has increased, and so has the number of beneficiaries as people have retired. Yet senior citizens — who benefit from federal programs, on average, far more than younger people — have become more Republican over that same period. They actually voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008 by a slightly higher margin than they did forGeorge W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

In 2010, their Republican margin increased even more, to a whopping 21 points. Pollster Scott Rasmussen told me that in his latest poll, Romney still leads among seniors by 19 points.

It’s true that Americans with low incomes — more and more of whom now receive food stamps and federally subsidized health insurance — have generally voted for Democrats over Republicans. But in 2010, these voters shifted toward Republicans even as food stamps, unemployment benefits and the like continued to increase.

Read the rest here.