Lee Drutman, a Senior Fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, compared the tax returns of previous presidents against that of Mitt Romney.

This scatter plot highlights two things: First, the two highest income years we observe are Romney 2011 ($21.6 million) and Romney 2010 ($20.9 million). Nobody else comes close. The next closest are Obama 2009 ($5.5 million) and Obama 2007 ($4.1 million).

Second, the two lowest effective tax rates we observe also belong to Romney. The 2012 Republican candidate paid an effective tax rate of 13.9% in 2010 and 15.4% in 2011. Next lowest is George H.W. Bush, who paid a 15.5% rate in 1991. By contrast, in Obama’s two highest earning years, he paid a rate of 32.6% (2009) and 33.7% (2007).

Of course the difference is there because most of Romney’s income comes from investments, but wow, what a contrast.

[Thanks, Chris]


  • Dan Murray July 27, 2012 at 3:39 am

    What this says to me is that Romney is 4X smarter than Obama on fiscal matters. Vote libertarian. :-)

    • Romney is in no way a Libertarian. Ever hear of Romneycare?

      Both candidates are actually fairly moderate, except for their philosophies on taxes. So really, the only reason to vote for Romney is if you’re rich and don’t care about closing the deficit.

      Or if you actually believe in the fairy tale of trickle-down “economics.”

  • Is that adjusted for inflation? Doesn’t look like it… and that would be more useful for the comparison.

  • Nicole Havins July 27, 2012 at 5:56 am

    All I get from this is that Romney has significantly higher income than recent presidents. Clinton, Bush Sr. and Obama each paid less than 20% in at leats one year. A useful companion tool would show what other high earners ($15M +) pay in taxes since that is the more relevant cohort for his income level. This shows Romney pays a lower percentage but is that something particular to Romney or a shared trait among his income cohort?

  • This is insanely deceptive since most of his income came from capital gains. Back when he earned the money I’m sure he paid tons of taxes on it (or if not then that’s the scandal). If the implication is that we should be taxing savings I find that difficult to support.

    • It’s not deceptive, that’s the entire point.

      Plus, Romney hasn’t “earned” money in years. As the manager of a hedge fund, when he invested OTHER PEOPLE’S money, he still only had to pay capital gains tax rates because of the absolutely insane carried interest provision.

    • rustywheeler July 30, 2012 at 10:50 am

      I think the implication is that taxing wages at double the rate of capital gains looks pretty bad when trying to make an argument about equal opportunity.

  • Comparing Romney to “Other presidents”? Let’s hope that doesn’t come to be true.

  • Interesting choice of lower limit on the horizontal axis.

  • Dave Shea July 27, 2012 at 8:40 am

    If this was broken into Earned income & Investment income it would be more accurate because they are taxed differently. Also, there’s no inflation factored in and they’re no reflection of the tax rates that were in effect. I agree the scale needs to be fixed too. No need to bring up MA healthcare (I live in MA), the legislature is 85% Democrat so we’ve got what we got, at least I could move if I don’t like it. Final word, we should not demonize successful people or apologize for taking advantage of the tax code that’s in place. :-D

    • rustywheeler July 30, 2012 at 10:54 am

      It seems clear by now that the “tax code that’s in place”—and how skewed it is toward investors vs. wage earners—is the very cat that Mitt’s trying so hard to keep in the bag, especially as he’d move to make it even MORE favorable to investment income.

  • It seems pretty mean-spirited to criticise Romney for his low effective tax rate without noting that he gives a significant amount to charity.

    • Dave Shea July 29, 2012 at 8:37 am

      That is a really good point, would be an interesting 3rd graph. :-D

    • I think the point here is about conveying information clearly and effectively. If there was a 3rd graph it could certainly include the type of charitable donation.

  • Shows how much fun you can have with graphs. Graph this. Of the money each president and Romney earned, how much did they contribute to the governement? Rough guess is Romney contributed over $3M of his money to the gov’t while Obama only contributed about $1.6M per year. Who contributed more ‘real’ value?

  • Interesting illustration of how the selection of both the lower and upper limits can effect a chart. A few posts after this one, the point is made that Fox News was exaggerating a difference by choosing a high value for the y-axis starting point. Similarly, the rate that Romney is paying in this chart is exaggerated by choosing a value for the y-axis maximum that is *just* above Romney’s reported rate, rather than 100% or historical highs for the time period.

  • What a shallow analysis. For starters there’s no correction for inflation which would hike up older prez #s.