A secret recording of Mitt Romney talking to donors has been released by Mother Jones, a left-wing American magazine, and even to his wellwishers (myself included) it sounds dreadful. He declares that 47 per cent of Americans are ‘dependent’ on government and regard themselves as ‘victims’.

‘There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.’

In a press conference in California last night, he said his case was not ‘elegantly stated’ but says his figure stands. It’s true that 47 per cent of Americans don’t pay income tax (details here), it’s less clear how they are ‘dependent on government’. If you add Brits who derive most of their income from government jobs or welfare, you’d get to about half of registered voters. But it’s patronising and wrong to assume that these people will always vote for high-spending governments.

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Romney’s logic is shared by sections of both right and left in Britain. You do hear Tories moan that Big Government has employed half the electorate, so how can they be expected to win? Anthony Giddens once argued that Britain will move to a left-wing era when half of the electorate has a stake in Big Government. Both points are wrong, and are not borne out by the evidence.

Just last weekend, a YouGov poll (pdf) showed there is virtually no difference in support for the Tories and Labour in the private and public sectors.