The Conservative Media Myths Behind Jeb Bush's Claim That Democrats Use “Free Stuff” To Court Black Voters

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently claimed that Democrats use the promise of “free stuff” to court black voters, echoing years of dubious claims by conservative media that government assistance programs exist to “buy votes.”

Jeb Bush Suggests Democrats Offer “Free Stuff” To Black Voters

Jeb Bush: Democrats Use “Free Stuff” To Try To Woo Black Voters. Speaking in South Carolina on September 24, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush claimed that Democrats use “free stuff” to win over black voters. As The New York Times reported:

Jeb Bush told a crowd in South Carolina on Thursday that Republicans could attract more African-Americans with a message of “hope and aspiration,” and not with promises of “free stuff” -- a phrase that echoed comments made by Mitt Romney during and after his 2012 bid for president.

The remarks, first reported by The Washington Post, came in response to a question from a white man in a largely white crowd in Mount Pleasant, who asked how Mr. Bush planned to appeal to African-Americans.

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” Mr. Bush said. “It isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting -- that says you can achieve earned success.” [The New York Times9/25/15]

Washington Post Calls Out Bush's Comments As Evidence-Free

Washington Post's Bump: Bush's “Free Stuff” Comments Is Based On Popular Conservative Myths. In a September 28 post for The Washington Post's political blog, The Fix, Phillip Bump explained that Jeb Bush's claim suffers from a “lack of evidence,” including the fact that there is “no correlation between the use of government programs and electoral results.” Bump argued that the “free stuff” myth has become conservative orthodoxy because of the Republican Party's obsession with the Affordable Care Act, Medicare expansion, food stamps, welfare, and “a long-standing program to offer reduced price phones to low-income households,” which have been derisively labeled “Obamaphones”:

On Friday, we looked at the lack of evidence for this position, including that there's no correlation between the use of government programs and electoral results. (And that other forms of government largess, such as tax breaks for corporations or Social Security, don't prompt a similar party-loyalty response from people.)

Part of this sentiment is likely a result of the fact (and the emphasis of the fact) that use of federal assistance increased under President Obama. Food stamp and temporary assistance program enrollment spiked after he came into office -- in large part because the economy had collapsed. (This led Newt Gingrich to call Obama the “food-stamp president” when Gingrich was running for president in 2012.) Layer on top of that conservative critique of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicare for low-income Americans, and a focus on a long-standing program to offer reduced-price phones to low-income households. [The Washington Post, The Fix, 9/28/15]

Fox News Has Spent Years Claiming That Democrats Support Assistance Programs To “Buy Votes” Of Recipients

Fox Repeatedly Hyped “Obamaphones” As An Incentive To Vote For Obama. Prior to President Obama's 2012 re-election, Fox repeatedly hyped a video of what it described as “an Obama supporter touting her 'Obamaphone'” to disparage recipients of federal assistance programs. Frequent Fox guest and then-National Review writer Mark Steyn claimed on Fox & Friends that “the 'takers' were able to out-vote the 'makers'” and that the American Dream was being thwarted by Democrats, who “bribe people with the Obamaphones.” Steyn was repeating claims made by Fox's Sean Hannity on his radio program, where Hannity suggested voters only supported Obama so they could receive an “Obamaphone.” Yet these so-called “Obamaphones” are non-existent -- the federal program that offered subsidized phone service (Lifeline) has existed since 1985 and was expanded to include cell phones through the SafeLink program under President George W. Bush. [,9/29/12; Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show10/2/12; Fox News, Fox & Friends11/8/12]

Fox's Varney Has Consistently Claimed Food Stamps Are An Attempt To Buy Votes For Democrats. Fox Business host Stuart Varney has consistently argued that Democrats use programs like food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to buy votes from low-income Americans. Varney claimed on the March 11, 2014 broadcast of Fox & Friends that the Obama administration was “deliberate[ly]” keeping people on food stamps, and “essentially buying votes.” He noted on America's Newsroom that he has claimed for years that food stamps and other programs are “an attempt to buy votes,” and that “right before an election, you say, look at all the goodies that we've got available, vote for me and the goodies keep on flowing.” In 2014, after Congress decided to cut SNAP benefits by $800 million and three states responded by expanding eligibility for certain families in need, Varney claimed,“What's really going on here is the government is buying votes. They keep [sic] churning out food stamps in return for votes. That's what's happening.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends3/11/14; Fox News, Fox & Friends2/12/15; Fox News, America's Newsroom5/13/15]

Fox Guest Peter Morici Claims Government Benefits Discourage “Obama's Battery-Powered Voters” From Working. On the June 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, guest Peter Morici claimed 7 million American men receive government assistance rather than working, calling them “Obama's battery-powered voters,” and claiming that “their batteries [are] being charged by entitlements, subsidies, and not working”:

PETER MORICI: We have some 7 million men between the ages of 25 and 54 -- too old for college, too young to retire -- that don't work, don't look for work, likely don't seek training. They're simply doing things like collecting food stamps, Medicaid, social security disability pensions, sponging off of relatives, girlfriends, sponging off of wives who do have jobs, working in the black market. It doesn't pay for them to take a job at ten bucks an hour because they start to lose these benefits.


MORICI: Well, essentially, if you go in and apply for disability, it can be pretty tough to get at first try. But then if you appeal, if you hire a lawyer, the government doesn't have a lawyer on the other side of the dispute, so it's very easy for you to win. The reality is, this system has come to light in the last six years. For example, public broadcasting did a segment on it some time ago. And the administration has taken no action to fix it. Why? The people who get these benefits? They're not going to vote for anyone then who'll repeal them like a Republican. It creates another one of Obama's battery-powered voters, their batteries being charged by entitlements, subsidies, and not working. [Fox News, Fox & Friends6/4/15]

Fox's Charles Payne: Obama Administration's Forgivness Of Student Loans Is A Way To “Buy An Election.” On the June 9 edition of Fox Business' Making Money with Charles Payne, host Charles Payne claimed that the Obama administration's student loan forgiveness program “put a mechanism in place” that could be used “if you want to buy an election”:

CHARLES PAYNE: Initially, when you look at this, it seems like just another thing along the lines of some of the things we've seen from the administration, and some of the rhetoric we've heard. But when I see they're developing a system, a mechanism to make it possible to forgive loans -- now this is from Corinthian College, it's bad, it's evil, it's mean, it's a publicly-traded company, they juked these kids -- but once that mechanism is in place, they can use it for anything in my mind.


PAYNE: That's the modus operandi. You take the right culprit, and in this case it's a publicly-traded, Wall Street, corporate villain, and you use that as a Trojan horse in my mind, Matt, and now you've got the mechanisms in place, and if you want to buy an election, imagine a year from now saying, hey, we're going to go ahead and take all the student loan forgiveness for kids who live in this state, or went to this particular school, or whatever. From here there's no limit in my mind.


SUSAN SOLOVIC: Well, I think it's bad for the economy, I think it's bad for our culture. Because what are we doing, this is just more of our entitlement economy. What are we teaching young people, oh whoops, this didn't work out? Darn. Somebody's going to come take care of me and fix it for me. And that's what they're going to be expecting their entire lives, somebody's going to take care of it for me.

PAYNE:  If somebody took care of it for you, would you vote for them? [Fox Business Network, Making Money with Charles Payne6/9/15]