Ten Miles Square


September 25, 2012 10:08 AM Not a Gaffe

By Andrew Gelman

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


  • Snarki, child of Loki on September 25, 2012 10:43 AM:

    One commonly used definition of "political gaffe" is "accidentally telling the truth".

    Romney's remarks fit that definition, so do Mondale's.

    The difficulty with accidentally telling the truth is that it is very difficult to retract.

  • Anonymous on September 25, 2012 11:15 AM:

    I may be wrong, but I believe Mondale's statement was made in public and was meant for public consumption. His words were meant to get out. Much different from saying something to your philosophical kin that is meant to be off-the- record and private.

  • beejeez on September 27, 2012 6:09 PM:

    Made in public? Yeah, if you consider his 1984 Presidential debate with Ronald Reagan public.