If there was a musical theme to the midterm elections, was it the Prosperity Blues?
The contrast between positive economic news and dreadful electoral news for the party holding the White House was one of the most remarkable parallels in recent political history.
Perhaps one has to go back to the impact on President George H.W. Bush’s re-election loss in 1992, when the economy was on the path back from recession. The good news came too late for Bush and a third-party challenger helped to stoke resentment among middle-class voters.
Still, this year is unusual. Only three days after voters kicked the Democrats hard in House and Senate elections, and in several governor’s races around the country, the government data came out: Private-sector employers have added at least 200,000 jobs for nine straight months, the longest such stretch since 1995.
That hiring lowered the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent from 5.9 percent. It is the lowest rate since July 2008.
Along with job growth, there are healthy gains in the stock markets. The Federal Reserve sees growth good enough to phase out its purchases of securities, which tends to lower borrowing rates for businesses. Incumbents usually benefit from such signs of prosperity.
What was missing to help the party in power? Part of it is average hourly pay, rising only 3 cents in October to $24.57, the government reported. Wage gains were once again concentrated in the best-educated professions and others in the top 10 percent of earners.
According to the Census Bureau, median household income in 2013 was still 5 percent below 2008 levels, when the dramatic stock market crash and recession occurred under President George W. Bush.
Even in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal has touted job growth since the recession, the experts squabble over the data. Our state may grow rapidly on its base in cyclical energy industries, but its level of wealth is not as high as many of its competitors in the South. Certainly there was sourness among state voters for incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat facing a difficult runoff on Dec. 6.
For that matter, Jindal’s favorability numbers are anemic, although he is term-limited and will not be eligible to run in the 2015 race.
An exit poll for the Associated Press and television networks found that nearly 60 percent of voters thought the economy was stagnating or worsening. Only one-third, the poll said, saw the economy as on the upswing.
For their households, as most voters live on wages, this was probably not an entirely unreasonable judgment. But the statisticians will likely look back on this election as one out of sync with the global economic data.