Do Swing Voters Care About Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns?


Ezra Klein takes to Twitter to write a blog post about Mitt Romney’s tax returns:

The Republicans telling Mitt Romney to release his tax returns appear to me to be giving him very bad advice. Consider: 

1) Mitt Romney has much more information than they do about his tax returns. And he doesn’t think it’s worth it to release them.

2) Most Americans are probably vaguely aware, at best, of the controversy over Romney’s tax returns.

3) Folks in the Beltway have spent a lot of time speculating about what could be in the returns, and so, to them, the damage is being done. But that’s not true for people in the country.

4) This campaign is really showing the difference between Beltway opinion and campaigns with actual info on voters. See also Obama and Bain.  

5) This campaign has persuaded me that pundits — myself included — are the last people we should be asking “what moves swing voters?” The key facts about swing voters are they don’t pay much attention to politics and/or don’t have strong opinions already. Horserace-obsessed pundits are about as far from the mindset of swing voters as it is possible to get. They are literally the opposite.

I think points 4 and 5 are well taken. However, this cuts both ways: Republicans calling for Romney to release his tax returns might very well be thinking that he’s better off doing it now precisely because swing voters aren’t paying much attention. But they’ll be paying attention in a couple of months, and if Obama can hammer away at Romney’s tax returns during the debates, it might very well influence them then. Conversely, if Romney’s taxes are “old news” by the time October rolls around, they might have lost their power to influence voters.

Now, obviously, point 1 is true: Romney knows what’s in his tax returns and we don’t. But consider this too: Romney turned over 23 years of tax returns to John McCain in 2008. He knew that some of them would become public if McCain tapped him, and apparently he didn’t think that was a big problem. He seems to be digging in his heels this time around partly out of sheer stubbornness, and it’s quite possible that he was thinking more clearly in 2008 than he is now.

Alternatively, of course, maybe his 2009 return has some really nasty stuff in it and it’s better to keep it secret and just take the hits. That’s for him to decide. But I wouldn’t take the calls for him to release his returns as a belief that secrecy is hurting him with swing voters right now. I’d take it as a belief that it will hurt him with swing voters in October.

NOTE: So do I think Romney will release his tax returns? Nope. At this point, he’s taken such a strong stand against it that he’d look like he was caving in to the liberal media if he changed course. Standing up to the lefty establishment is a key part of his Mitt 3.0 persona, and he can’t afford to damage it.

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