The Economy Didn’t Help Republicans In The Midterms

The economy may be doing well, but that didn't help Republicans in the midterms.

While President Trump spent most of the time he was on the campaign trail for Republicans spreading unfounded fears about a migrant caravan currently located some 600 miles away from the Mexican border with the United States, some Republicans tried to focus voters attention on the state economy to try to save their party in the just-concluded midterm elections. As I noted before the election, there was at least some reason for them to do this given the fact that both economic growth and the jobs picture are looking fairly good and that, most notably, the latest jobs report showed that wages were finally starting to grow at a decent paste after more than a year of relative stagnation. As it turned out, though, that effort either didn’t resonate with voters or it was too little, too late because the economy doesn’t appear to have helped Republicans at the ballot box at all:

Unemployment is abnormally low. Growth has sped up. A $1.5 trillion tax cut, signed by President Trump last year, is fueling consumer spending. Faced with strong Democratic enthusiasm and fund-raising, and hindered by an unpopular president, Republicans were counting on that economic strength to lift them at the polls, or at least limit the damage.

It didn’t. Republicans lost in House districts with low unemployment rates. They lost in districts that have gained manufacturing jobs. They lost in districts that got big tax cuts. And they lost overwhelmingly in the kind of affluent, educated suburbs that have experienced the strongest overall recovery — and that were once among the most reliable Republican districts.

Republicans had lost 30 net seats in the House as of Friday afternoon, and will probably lose a few more once all the votes are counted. It is possible, of course, that Republican losses might have been even larger were it not for the strong economy. But there was little sign of that in district-level results: Many of the Democrats’ pickups came in places where the economy, at least by standard measures, is strong.

All told, there was no apparent relationship between Republican candidates’ performance in Tuesday’s House races and the strength of the economy in those districts, an analysis of economic and electoral data shows.

Republicans fared better in the Senate, but there is no sign that the economy was a major factor in those races, either. Kevin Cramer, a Republican, unseated Senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, which has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, 2.7 percent. But in neighboring Minnesota, where the rate is just a tenth of a percentage point higher, the Democratic incumbent, Amy Klobuchar, cruised to a 24-point victory.

Analyzing the role of the economy in elections is particularly difficult in the Senate because there are fewer races and senators represent entire states, in which economic conditions can vary by area. But Tuesday’s results do not appear to align with measures of state economic health.

If the economy was going to save Republicans anywhere, it should have been in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, where the unemployment rate was 2.5 percent in the third quarter of the year — down a percentage point in the past two years — and where the typical household earned more than $80,000 in 2017.

Yet the Republican incumbent, Jason Lewis, lost by more than five pointsto a local businesswoman, Angie Craig, whom he had beaten in a tight election two years earlier.

Ms. Craig wasn’t the only Democrat who found success in a part of the country where the economy is exceptionally strong. Republican incumbents were defending eight seats that are among the 25 districts where unemployment is lowest. They lost five, including two districts each in Minnesota and Iowa, where the local unemployment rate is below 3 percent.

In fact, Republican incumbents fared better on average in districts with higher unemployment rates. And while that partly reflects baked-in partisan dynamics — Republicans tend to do well in rural areas, where unemployment tends to be higher — the party’s candidates also did better relative to past elections in districts where the jobless rate was higher than the national average.

Of the 25 House districts with the highest unemployment rates heading into Election Day, 10 had Republican incumbents. At least nine of those incumbents won, by an average of more than 30 points; the 10th race, in California, has not yet produced a result.

Despite giving at least a modest tax cut to most households, the tax law has struggled to win majority support from voters. Several of its biggest champions lost their seats on Tuesday. They included four members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which wrote the law, most notably Peter Roskam of Illinois, the chairman of the tax policy subcommittee, and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

On average, Republican candidates did no better in districts where residents got larger tax cuts, as measured by estimates from the Tax Foundation, a conservative research group.

In addition to the state of the economy, Republicans had hoped that the tax cut package that was passed last December would save them from a bad result on Tuesday. As I noted several times during the course of the campaign though (see here and here), it was apparent that the tax bill itself had proven to be so unpopular among voters that most Republican candidates had largely abandoned bringing it up on the campaign trail. The results on Election Day were similarly bad when it came to the so-called “Tax Cuts And Jobs Act,” and that the new law was actually a net negative in states where changes such as the treatment of deductions for property and other state taxes had the most negative impact. Instead, the law clearly hurt Republicans in high income, high-tax districts where residents were upset about the newly established cap on deductions for state and local taxes.

As the above-linked article notes, one example of this can be seen in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, where the largest share of residents took advantage of the deduction in 2016. In that District, incumbent Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, a relatively moderate Republican in the tradition of her predecessor Frank Wolf, lost her seat to a Democratic candidate who campaigned heavily on the loss of the deduction. It also appears to have been an issue in New Jersey, where Democrats have flipped at least three Republican seats to the blue side of the aisle and appear to have likely done the same in a fourth, although the race there has not been officially called yet.  All of the Democrats who ran against Republicans in the Garden State used the tax deduction issue in a number of their ads. Rather than helping, then, the tax bill appears to have hurt the GOP most especially in the Northeast, where outside of Governors such as Charlie Baker and Larry Hogan, the GOP lost significant ground last Tuesday. There’s a lesson here, but you can rest assured that Republicans won’t recognize it.


FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Wages are not growing at a “good pace”. From Kevin Drum:

    Wages of production and nonsupervisory workers were up at a monthly rate of 0.31 percent and a year-over-year rate of 0.86 percent.

    Republicans are using non-inflation adjusted numbers to make it seem like something is happening and the usual mathematical morons that comprise our press happily accept that.

  2. Kathy says:

    It’s really a bad situation when you have one major legislative accomplishment in two years, and you can’t even talk about it 🙂

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There’s a lesson here, but you can rest assured that Republicans won’t recognize it.

    Yeah, raping our children’s future for tax cuts to corporations and the rich are kinda frowned upon by the hoi polloi. I rather suspect the GOP recognizes it by now but I doubt they are capable of caring.

  4. Bob@Youngstown says:

    ummm… Reminder: during Trump’s 1st year the S&P 500 rose 20.4%

    During 2nd year (in the 11th hour) the S&P 500 LOST 1.9%

    The measure of accomplishment should be on if that accomplishment is sustainable, rather than a sugar high that peters out.

    Given those facts, running on the stock market is not a good tactic.

  5. Slugger says:

    You could say that the economy didn’t help the Democrats in 2016. When Obama took office in 2009, the economy was in a Great Recession. The eight years he was in office, things improved. The improvement was slow, but it was steady. I am open to arguments that this was not due to Obama being a brilliant economic leader, but the economic numbers did get better.
    One could make the argument that voters are motivated by things other than economics. Nobody in Pennsylvania or Kentucky really thinks that there will be more coal mining jobs; nobody in Iowa thinks tariffs help the farm markets.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Also we’re just about to see what the rollercoaster called a “no deal Brexit” is going to do to the world’s economy.

    Theresa May finally dumped out her final-final-this-is-the-absolutely-FINAL-draft of a departure agreement out into the world and everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off. There never was a way that would reconcile all the red lines May claimed to not cross, and the ultra-Brexiters have never even bothered to try to square the circle of “frictionless trade” and “not having to adhere to EU regulations.” Plus the U.K. has never understood how the EU works, nor attempted to find out.

    From Fortune: A tip of the hat to Irish solicitor Simon McGarr, who quipped on Twitter that “Brexit has been 18 months of watching someone trying to haggle on prices with the automatic scanning machine at a Tesco checkout.”

  7. Kathy says:


    You could say that the economy didn’t help the Democrats in 2016.

    Unfortunately, this was so.

    My overall take, perhaps too simplistically, is that a bad economy can sink an incumbent, but a good economy won’t necessarily help said incumbent.

    There’s also what I call the Krusty principle based on this bit of dialogue where Krusty the Clown can’t recall who Bart Simpson is:

    Bart: I got you off when you were framed for a crime.
    Krusty: uh, ah…
    Bart: I helped you reconcile with your father.
    Krusty: And what have you done for me lately?(*)

    In this case one can argue the economy under Trump has kept on going in the trend it started under Obama, which is true. The tax cut went mostly to the people who are already wealthy. So the voter response is quite naturally “And what have you done for me lately?”

    (*) For the record the scene ends with:

    Bart: I got you a Danish.
    Krusty: And I’ll never forget it.

  8. de stijl says:

    The economy didn’t help Rs because Rs (starting with Trump) decided to run on immigration, and on the fact R candidates don’t follow Nancy Pelosi’s un-American diktat unlike those creepy Ds.

    If you’re a super shitty person and it looks as if you’re likely to shoot yourself in the foot, is it incumbent on me to tell you that it looks likely you’re fucking this up and pushing a losing message?

    Rs decided not to run on the economy themselves.

    Instead, they spent half their ad buys on “We didn’t really mean it when we tried to take away insurance protections for pre-existing conditions. We were fronting! We didn’t *really* mean it. Well, we kinda meant it, but it was just to protect you ignorant yahoos from over-using insurance dollars. Those are fungible assets, people! Promise! Pinky promise! BTdubs, candidate X gave jew Soros money to Hondurexican MS-13 illegals to despoil your precious White daughter and also bought the Fentanyl the antifa were smoking at the time.

    My local R political ads were bonkers insane this year. And the above hyperbole pretty much captures the R zeitgeist. Apparently, Nancy Pelosi is really vile and awful and that all D candidates want to vote for her dangerous agenda.

    There are companies / people that supply sound effects specifically tailored for Republican political ads. They all sound like the chung-chung from Law & Order only waaay scarier.

    90% (I just made that up) of the reason that people hate politics is that negative political ads are so awful and hyperbolic and demonstrably false and just so, so very irritating.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ve been going on about this for a while, but the fascinating thing about Trump’s approval numbers is not that he still has the support of every woman-hater, racist and gun nut (the base) in the country, it’s that he’s stuck hard at 42% with – according to the last poll I saw on the question – his opposition divided between the 5% who don’t like Trump and the 47% who fcking hate him.

    Any marginally competent POTUS with peace and a strong economy would be sitting well above 50%. But you can’t get to 50% when 47% think you’re a skinbag filled with sewage.

    Trump has made no progress with voters. It doesn’t matter what the economy does, the larger culture has utterly rejected him. And if the economy won’t save him, what will? He has no second act. This is actually the best we’ll see from him, it’s all downhill now.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    I figure that at some point actual voting Republicans will be tired of the Infowars/Breitbart nonsense, tired of being used as marks for the grifters, and tired of being in an environment where it’s nothing but talking heads screaming at each other.

    At which point they’ll turn into Democrats if the circus continues to spin its way off the cliff.

  11. Kylopod says:


    You could say that the economy didn’t help the Democrats in 2016.

    The election model used by political scientist Alan Abramowitz, which uses GDP growth, determined that a generic Republican was favored to win in 2016 (GDP growth had been slowing down since 2015). Trump actually underperformed based on that model; it was the first election since the model’s debut in 1988 where it incorrectly predicted the winner of the popular vote.

  12. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Brits have natural tendency to see us Americans as moronic barbarians.

    But we will have solved our Trump problem come 2020, Whereas, in 2020, the UK will be totally fucked because of Brexit, and will remain fucked in 2030.

    Referenda are dicey. Betting your economic and political future on ill-informed rural xenophobes is not advised. The Tories “won” Brexit Leave, and then lost everything thereafter.

    Nobody does deadpan snark better than the Brits. Kate Nash – Foundations

  13. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But you can’t get to 50% when 47% think you’re a skinbag filled with sewage.

    Well, technically, you can. 100 minus 47 is 53.

    Ah, fuck me! Now I sound like Kylopod when he gets his geek on.

  14. de stijl says:


    The election model used by political scientist Alan Abramowitz, which uses GDP growth…

    This is no foolin’.

    I have an imaginary comedic foil I deemed Stanky Abramovitz.

    Stanky is my Newman in the Seinfeldian context. Stanky obviously does noes exist, but my ego lays almost all of my id output onto Stanky Abromovitz.

    “Hello, Newman” compilation.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I figure that at some point actual voting Republicans will be tired of the Infowars/Breitbart nonsense, tired of being used as marks for the grifters, and tired of being in an environment where it’s nothing but talking heads screaming at each other

    You are probably right. That’s what essentially happened in California. The Republicans that still self identify as such are as lunatic and delusional as ever, and they didn’t actually decline all that much numbers-wise. But the independents left them by the droves.

  16. TimH says:

    The REPUBLICANS did not help Republicans. As always, this piss-pant, chickenhearted party REFUSES to ever go on any serious OFFENSE. Short of Trump’s coat tails, which a bunch of them (ahem, Mia Love, McSally) shunned, they just aren’t pulling their own weight politically! And for Real America, we just don’t see how these “coasters” could actually represent us….

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:


    And for Real America,

    Never mind real Americans, tell us how you feel.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    Please, DFTFT.

  19. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    Nobody in Pennsylvania or Kentucky really thinks that there will be more coal mining jobs; nobody in Iowa thinks tariffs help the farm markets.

    So you rubes just like being lied to. Got it.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    Take your ‘real America’ and shove it. Rural ‘real’ America is a welfare state living off the taxes collected from the productive America on the coasts. LA county alone could buy half a dozen of your ‘real’ states and have cash leftover to buy everyone a sandwich.

  21. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yeah and most americans live within 100 miles of the coasts. The people in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, etc, are the oddballs.

  22. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08: In the wise words of Teve Tory, “In the entire history of the Internet telling people not to feed the troll has never once worked.”

  23. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    And for Real America


  24. Teve says:

    @Kylopod: As a 13-year veteran moderator I can confirm that the only way to stop trolls is structural.

    Our troll problem here is not severe enough to make any changes. The extreme difficulty in defending trump is acting as a bit of a brake on them.

  25. Kylopod says:


    As a 13-year veteran moderator I can confirm that the only way to stop trolls is structural.

    Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

    My own sense from participating in Internet forums for more than two decades (I have no real experience as a moderator) is that it’s partly dependent on how popular the forum is. Let me give a couple of examples. The political scientist Jonathan Bernstein used to have his own little blog at, which attracted a small, close-knit crowd of dedicated political junkies. There was the occasional troll, but the blog was too out-of-the-way to attract their attention for the most part. Then Bernstein got a new gig at Bloomberg, and since then his comment section has been overrun by trolls of the hit-and-run variety.

    Another example: The reporter Josh Green had a blog at The Atlantic for years, which normally attracted maybe 1-2 dozen comments for each article on average. Then in 2010 Green broke a story about a Congressional candidate who liked to dress as an SS officer in historical reenactments. When I opened the comment section under his post that day, I discovered to my horror that there were literally over 10,000 comments. I couldn’t possibly read them all, but the sampling I got made it very clear it was being dominated by recruits from Stormfront.

    This was an early experience for me in the white-nationalist presence on the Internet (though I’d long known it existed), and it confirmed a pattern I would go on to see, which is that if you want to avoid a troll invasion, try to steer clear of posting anything having to do with (1) the Jooz, or (2) Ron Paul.

  26. Teve says:

    @Kylopod: It’s impossible to come up with black-and-white rules for dealing with trolls. The popularity of the forum and a dozen other factors matter, and you have to use your gut on a case-by-case basis. But if you have a serious troll problem–which we don’t have here–urging commenter restraint doesn’t work. You have to delete the trolls, or ban them, which are both extreme and problematic methods, or, and the one I prefer, set up a dedicated thread and kick the trolls and replies to the trolls there. That way there’s no ‘censorship’, and you can still keep threads on track.

    But of course some jerks are just too jerky and have to be banned.

  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: Ta Nahesi Coates’ blog at The Atlantic had a heavily moderated comments section that was a perfect example of what is possible…. and a perfect example of the superhuman effort it took to keep it that way. I think he had something like 4-5 people that put in serious hours on a volunteer basis as moderators

  28. Teve says:

    Yeah it’s certainly work. A decade ago, when the creationists were all pretending to be “Intelligent Design Theorists” I got overworked and we added 2 more moderators to handle the load, but ID was quickly recognized by a federal judge as the same old creationist nonsense with a fancy name change, and their plans for getting into public school science classrooms crashed and burned hard, and since then it’s been dying. There are now only 2 or 3 “ID” blogs left, and we don’t get much traffic from their trolls anymore. (But the few who are left are real mental patients.)

  29. Kathy says:


    [..]but ID was quickly recognized by a federal judge as the same old creationist nonsense with a fancy name change,[..]

    I prefer to think it evolved in response to changing pressures in the intelectual and cognitive environment, but the adaptation failed to ensure its continued survival. Hail, Satan! 😛

  30. Franklin says:

    Regarding the headline: Au contraire! The artificial and temporarily decent economic numbers saved them from a complete slaughter.

  31. de stijl says:


    Beside, trolls provide targets for down-voting and counter-commentary.

    I like Michael Reynolds and welcome his commentary here, but I’m gonna puke next time I have to upvote him because he did clever worldplay.

    Can’t I just stipulate that at this point?

    It’s not him, but it’s just the process and the dynamic.

    If not for Reactionary Ron, and Florack, and Tyrell. Drew, Gauneri. Jay Tea, J@nos, etc., what would we say to each other?

    Without someone like Resistance Ron, we would just pass around upvotes like participation trophies and me posting odd vids like The Sex Pistols doing God Save The Queen

    We mean it, man.

    John Lydon fascinates me. That man has like zero fucks to give. He’s obviously a total asshole and painful and trying to be around personally, but still so fascinating.

    Sid is a walking bag of semi-sentient proto-charcoal.

  32. de stijl says:

    In my first job after service, my bosses’ boss walked up to me one day and was tying to make nice one afternoon so I took off my headphones to engage with her.

    She asked me what I was listening to and I truthfully, abashedly responded “Umm, the Sex Pistols, ma’am.” I couldn’t think of a good lie.

    A thing went through her face very fast – like she’d inadvertently swallowed a maggot in public, but did not want to acknowledge it to anyone. I was that socially awkward maggot.

  33. al Ameda says:


    And for Real America, we just don’t see how these “coasters” could actually represent us….

    Yeah, that ‘Real America’ bullsh**.
    Do you realize that California, with 39M people, is the 5th largest economy in the world? Conservatives are so dimissive of “coasters.” These are the people who contribute disproportionately more to the economic prosperity of the country than “Real Americans”

  34. Just nutha says:

    @de stijl:

    …but I’m gonna puke next time I have to upvote him because he did clever worldplay.

    Then don’t do it. Easy peasy. Up/Downvoting is not a moral/intellectual/social imperative.