A much smaller fraction of the population looks to the government for food or housing.
Less than 15 percent of Americans – about 46 million – were on food stamps as of June 2012, the most recent month data is available from the Department of Agriculture. Food stamp recipients have been on the rise, though, with 13 million more people buying their food on the government’s dime in 2012 than did in 2009.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 4 percent of U.S. households rely on the government to help pay their rent, 54 percent of which are elderly or disabled. The median income of the 4.5 million families whose housing is either subsidized or paid for by the federal government is $10,440, about one-fifth the average household income.
While the Obama campaign swiftly criticized Romney for “writing off half the nation,” his assertion that people on government programs will likely vote for Obama is at least somewhat substantiated by the 2008 election exit polls.
Low-income voters, whose incomes are too low to pay income tax and who are most likely to qualify for rental assistance, food stamps and Medicaid, overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008. The president won 60 percent of voters with incomes between $30,000 and $15,000 while Republican nominee John McCain captured 37 percent of those voters.
Three out of four people who earned less than $15,000 picked Obama, according to exit polls.