By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Household incomes posted strong growth last year in more than a dozen U.S. congressional districts where Republicans face stiff challenges in November elections, according to a Reuters analysis of Census Bureau data published on Thursday.
The rise in incomes could support the party’s hopes of keeping Democrats from winning the 23 seats they need to seize control of the U.S. House of Representatives and thwart Republican President Donald Trump’s agenda.
The party of sitting presidents tends to lose seats in U.S. congressional midterm elections and some analysts believe Trump’s low national approval rating could drag on Republican candidates.
The Census data, part of the bureau’s annual American Community Survey, showed that median incomes grew 6 percent or more last year in 14 battleground districts, more than a percentage point higher than the national median income gain.
All 14 of the districts are held by Republicans. The party’s candidates this year have made the strengthening U.S. economy under Trump a dominant theme in their campaigns for the Nov. 6 elections.
That message was supported on Wednesday by separate data that showed the national median income last year – Trump’s first in office – rose to its highest in a decade after adjusting for inflation and survey changes.
Many of the districts have large, well-educated suburban populations, a demographic that tends to express more disapproval of Trump in opinion polls.
The Census figures for congressional districts are not adjusted for inflation and are subject to statistical margins of error because they are based on surveys of small areas. The fuzziness in the data makes it difficult to assess income growth in many districts, but Reuters verified the growth in those districts was statistically significant.
In New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, for example, median income grew 10.4 percent in 2017 to $82,301, according to Thursday’s data.
The Republican incumbent, Tom MacArthur, is touting the district’s improved economic fortunes, including a drop in area unemployment. The contest between MacArthur and Democratic challenger Andy Kim is widely seen as a toss-up.
Despite the growth, national wage gains have been historically weak since the 2007-2009 recession and some political scientists have predicted that lackluster earnings growth could weigh on Republicans in November.
Yet in several key congressional districts, voters are feeling the economy’s strength in their pocketbooks.
The median income grew by 9.6 percent in North Carolina’s Charlotte-area 9th Congressional District, also seen as a toss-up, and by 9.2 percent in California’s 49th District. That district in traditionally conservative Orange County, is held by retiring Republican Darrell Issa, but the race is seen leaning to Democrats in November.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Additional reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Peter Cooney)