"Yes, the economy is always a factor in elections. But a wretched economy doesn't automatically doom Washington's ruling party to disaster in a midterm election. Since World War II, the average midterm loss by the president's party is 24 House and four Senate seats. In 1982, despite a deep recession and joblessness above 10%, Republicans lost only 26 House seats and none in the Senate. The difference between 1982 and today is that President Reagan's policies—cutting spending and taxes, firing striking air-traffic controllers—were popular."
Perhaps. Of course, in 1982, the president's party was already in the minority in the House -- the GOP lost 26 House seats out of 192. That was a significant blow to a party that was, frankly, already weak in the House. "Only" 26 seats is a more serious loss than Barnes portrays it. Wonder why he doesn't explain that context?
Probably because he's wrong about his central thesis, which is that voters don't really care about the economy -- they care about Obama's liberal overreach. But I'd wager my right thumb that if Obama had done everything he'd done and employment was hovering around 5 percent, we wouldn't see the Democratic losses we'll see on Tuesday. Voters care about results more than anything else.