Not a Gaffe

Unlike my co-bloggers here, here, here, I would not label Mitt Romney’s “47%” remarks as a gaffe. To my ear, a “gaffe” is some silly little remark or misstatement.

In this case, it’s not that Romney said something embarrassing and mistaken, it’s that he said something very deliberately that corresponds to an unpopular position. And it wasn’t just one offhand remark, it was an entire speech.

A comparable statement would be Walter Mondale’s statement that he would raise people’s taxes.

The amazing thing about Mondale’s speech is that, after he says he’ll raise taxes, the crowd cheers. Of course, it was a partisan crowd.

Similarly, Romney’s crowd seemed to have no problem with his “47%” remark.

Neither Romney’s nor Mondale’s speeches were “gaffes.” They were clear, if unfortunate, statements of the candidates’ positions. All too clear, in both cases.

P.S. Yes, I recognize that “gaffe” is not a precisely defined term. What I’m pushing against is the implication that statements such as Romney’s (or Mondale’s) are silly public relations mistakes. I think they represent real tensions between the views of the candidate’s core supporters and the general population.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.