If James Carville is still remotely right that “It’s the economy, stupid,” then it’s no wonder that it has been tough sledding for Senate incumbents this fall. Members of the Senate class that’s up for reelection this year were, of course, elected (or reelected) in November 2008 and began their current 6-year terms in January 2009. Using tallies from 2009 as the baseline, therefore, inflation-adjusted median household incomes have actually fallen on these senators’ watch in 11 of the 12 battleground states they represent. That’s a hard thing to explain to voters, especially if your party has been in the majority throughout that time.
It’s bad enough if real incomes don’t rise as much as one might expect. It’s worse if they flatline. But in all but one of the 12 battleground states in question, incomes haven’t even managed to flatline — they’ve actually dropped. In the other — Minnesota — they’ve risen a paltry 0.5 percent, an average of just 0.1 percent per year.
The 12 battleground states included in this tally are those in which, according to polling published by Real Clear Politics as of Monday, an incumbent who was elected (or reelected) in 2008 is leading by less than 10 points, or is leading by less than 15 points and has an approval rating of less than 50 percent. The tallies for real median household income are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (here’s the most recent release; here’s the release showing 2009 tallies). That’s the source that the Census Bureau itself recommends for looking at statewide data; the Census writes on its own blog that “because of [its] larger sample size and smaller sampling errors, we recommend using the American Community Survey for subnational geographic areas.” The website Department of Numbers adjusts these Census figures for inflation (which one can also do for oneself, getting essentially identical results, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator).
Here is the income scorecard by battleground state, showing the change in the typical household’s real income from 2009 to 2013 (as tallies for 2013 were just released last month):
Minnesota: up by 0.5 percent and $302
Kentucky: down by 0.3 percent and $120
Alaska: down by 1 percent and $476
Arkansas: down by 1 percent and $566
Kansas: down by 2 percent and $958
Colorado: down by 2 percent and $1,375
New Hampshire: down by 2 percent and $1,547
North Carolina: down by 3 percent and $1,525
Virginia: down by 3 percent and $1,768
Louisiana: down by 4 percent and $1,983
Mississippi: down by 5 percent and $1,835
Oregon: down by 5 percent and $2,374
Another incumbent, Cory Booker of New Jersey, didn’t take office until 2013. Still, he holds a seat that his party has held since 2009 (and beyond), and real incomes in New Jersey have dropped 5 percent for the typical household since that time — dropping by a whopping $4,056.
Whether this lost Senate term for Main Street Americans has anything to do with Obamacare — the debate over which began in earnest in June 2009 — is open to interpretation. Perhaps the historically sluggish economy in the aftermath of the debate and passage of the 2,700-page overhaul is merely a coincidence. Perhaps Obamacare’s myriad of taxes, mandates, fines, bans, spending, and coercion — and the labor uncertainly and rising insurance premiums it has spawned — hasn’t had any deleterious effect on the economy whatsoever. But the nine incumbent senators in battleground states who cast crucial votes that enabled Obamacare to pass — Al Franken in Minnesota, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Udall in Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Warner in Virginia, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Jeff Merkley in Oregon — presumably have some particular explaining to do to voters.