The Democrats' focus on income inequality probably helped... Republicans

The Obama economy has mostly helped the rich. They repaid him by voting for the other party.

David Perdue
(Image credit: (Jason Getz/Getty Images))

The economy was the top issue in the 2014 midterms, as it often is in American elections, according to exit polls.

And you might think that would have helped Democrats. On the one hand, the U.S. economy has rebounded significantly in recent years, with the stock market on a steady upward climb over Obama's five-plus years in office. The economy has expanded, unemployment has fallen, and many other important indicators are up too, as this chart from The Wall Street Journal shows:

Certainly the U.S. has recovered from the Great Recession much quicker than Europe, especially on the metric most relevant for voters, employment:

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On the other hand, stagnant wages, the sharp widening of the wealth gap, and the subpar job participation rate should play to the Democrats' strength and political narrative.

Aren't Republicans the party focused on tax cuts for the wealthy "job creators," disparaging the 47 percent of low-earning "takers," taking Donald Trump seriously, and defending business? For Pete's sake, Republican Senator-elect David Purdue bragged about outsourcing American jobs abroad. Democrats are for reducing income inequality and making people pay their "fair share."

It turns out that the voters who turned up on Tuesday are mostly just mad about the economy, and they blame Obama, according to the exit polls. The economy was the top concern for 45 percent of voters. About two-thirds say they believe the economy is flat-lining or getting worse.

Almost half of voters said they and their family haven't seen their finances improve in the past few years and a quarter say they are economically worse off. These voters checked their ballots for Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, The Associated Press reports. Voters were as disillusioned with congressional Republicans as they were with Obama, and almost two-thirds agreed with Democrats that the U.S. economic system favors the rich — but many of them voted for Republicans anyway.

Democrats did win 55 percent of people whose families earned less than $50,000, but those voters made up only 36 percent of Tuesday's electorate — much smaller than their share of the population. Republicans, meanwhile, won 54 percent of people from households earning $50,000 to $99,000, and 57 percent of those making $100,000 and up.

In other words, Democrats helped convince a big majority of people that the economic system is stacked against them — Kentucky, for example, voted to both raise the minimum wage and send Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) back to Washington — but failed to get enough of those hit hardest by that system to come out and vote. Maybe the lower-earners were busy working on election day, or maybe they were depressed by their position in our stratified economy.

The corollary, of course, is that the voters who gained the most in the Obama economy voted overwhelmingly to make sure he's a lame duck. Maybe Democrats should have talked more about the booming stock market.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.