Politics and Public Opinion

Will rising gasoline prices sink Obama?

From ABC News:

Gasoline prices could soon hit $4 a gallon, a threshold they haven’t flirted with since last spring. The average price paid by U.S. drivers for a gallon of regular now stands at $3.52, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which released its latest figures this afternoon. That price represents an increase of 0.04 percent from a week ago and 0.38 percent from a year ago.

Experts expect prices to spike another 60 cents or more, with the $4 mark being touched—or exceeded—sometime this summer, probably by Memorial Day weekend, the peak of the summer driving season. The last time the U.S. saw $4 gasoline was back in the summer of 2008.

“I think it’s going to be a chaotic spring,” says Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service. He expects average prices to peak at $4.05, though he and other industry trackers say prices could be sharply higher in some markets.

The link between gasoline prices and presidential approval ratings isn’t perfect, but it is strong, as the above chart (from Strategas Research) suggests. Interestingly, presidents seem to lose popularity when gas prices are high but don’t get credit when they are low. Here’s Larry Sabato:

On the one hand, it is clearly true that high gas prices often coincide with lower presidential approval ratings. As political scientists have long demonstrated, these approval ratings are a strong indicator of a president’s reelection chances. As we have seen, though, gas prices alone certainly are not a perfect predictor of approval ratings or, indirectly, reelection. While continually rising gas prices would likely weaken Obama’s reelection standing, it would be just one of many factors voters consider when evaluating his first term.

So let’s put together the pieces of the puzzle. Gas prices could be quite high, over $4 a gallon. At the same time, the economy, while better, will be hardly booming. The new Wall Street Journal economic survey pegs 2012 GDP growth at 2.5 percent, unemployment at 8 percent. Good enough for an Obama reelection? Maybe. For the U.S. economy? Hardly.

4 thoughts on “Will rising gasoline prices sink Obama?

  1. I don’t need the charts to know that high gas prices are an obstacle to a President being re-elected. Aside from partisan loyalists who vote a straight ticket, the mushy middle votes on whether they think they’re doing okay (now and in the not too distant future). High gas prices are a once a week (or so) reminder that they’re losing ground.

    Just as the Reagan campaign used the ‘misery index’ to illustrate how poorly people were faring under Carter, the GOP ought to come up with an updated version to use against Obama. Factor in unemployment, gas prices, housing values (perhaps a twist on the foreclosure rate), health care costs and so on and the GOP would have a pretty nice graphic to show just how poorly middle class America has done during the past three years. And what better way to rebut Obama’s claiming to be ‘for the middle class’ than with an easy to understand picture of just how he’s screwed the very people he claims to be trying to help?

  2. He’s also gonna get clocked by electricity prices this summer in at least three “swing states”–Pennsylvania, Ohio and VA–by then those EPA new regs on greenhouse gas will have shut down around 15% of the leading generating company’s coal plants. If demand should surge during the summer, as it pretty much always does, homeowners in those states (plus MD, where I live) will get a nasty shock from their power company come September.

    /Just hoping there aren’t any brownouts, heat can really affect the sick and elderly.

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