The Journal Misfires on the Economy and the Election

The Wall Street Journal makes a logical error this morning in reporting that the “Economy Wasn’t Sole Voter Concern.”

Now, obviously, it’s a no-brainer to say the economy, bad as it is, wasn’t the “sole voter concern” on Tuesday. A healthy percentage of the voting population was probably concerned with bringing taupe to the Oval Office.

The Journal points out that:

Of the 25 congressional districts hit hardest by the recession, measured by joblessness, poverty rates and housing prices, 16 are currently represented by Democrats. Fourteen of them won re-election, despite the Republican tide…

And of the 25 congressional districts that have fared best economically in the past year, 14 currently are represented by Democrats and the party held on to just eight of those.

That’s interesting, yes, but devoid of context it doesn’t tell us much of anything, much less that because the economy was particularly bad in those districts that it means the economy wasn’t the only thing going on on Tuesday. And the WSJ has almost no context here.

What else was happening in those districts? Would it surprise you if the 25 congressional districts hit hardest by the recession contained a disproportionate number of minorities, for instance?

The Journal doesn’t tell us much of anything about the districts. One it does talk about, in North Dakota, backs up its thesis, sort of:

In North Dakota, for instance, which has a single House seat and the lowest unemployment rate in the country, 18-year veteran Democrat Earl Pomeroy lost to Republican challenger Rick Berg. The state’s poverty rate dropped and home prices increased. Mr. Pomeroy took heat for the health-care overhaul and stimulus package.

But even then, Pomeroy doesn’t vote for the stimulus package if the economy isn’t in the crapper.

The only other district the paper talks about gives a possible hint at why Democrats held onto districts with terrible economic numbers:

In Arizona’s Fourth District, which includes the southern portion of Phoenix, home prices tumbled 30% in just one year, the poverty rate jumped five percentage points to 31.8% in 2009 and the share of the entire adult population that isn’t working (including those in school, retired or not looking for work) increased to 43.1% in 2008. Yet Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor won by more than a 35-point margin.

Hmmm. Poverty rate’s nearly a third—a tip-off that the 4th might be a heavily minority district (I don’t know why the Journal uses that 43 percent number rather than a traditional unemployment number. It’s an interesting stat, but it’s of limited usefulness without any info on what the national or state number is.)

Sure enough. That district is 29 percent white—it’s about as likely to go Republican as Charlie Rangel’s.

It wouldn’t be surprising if many of the others in the Journal’s hardest-hit sample are similarly demographically top-heavy for the Dems.

Look, the party in power almost always loses a good amount of seats in the midterms, even when the economy is good. When the economy is terrible, it’s going to lose even more. This isn’t too hard.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.