Why gas prices matter so much for elections

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The outcome of tomorrow’s midterm elections could be influenced by something over which the government has little control: the cost of filling up your car with gas.

Since the 1970s, presidential approval ratings have tended to sag when gasoline prices rise. And that correlation has been particularly pronounced this year as inflation intensified and gasoline prices soared.

  • The Washington Post found that the proportion of Americans who say the country is on track has moved remarkably in sync with gasoline prices.
  • Since gasoline prices peaked in June, the correlation between the generic Democratic ballot and the price of gasoline has stood at minus-0.91, almost a perfect inverse correlation (which is minus-1 ).

Why are gas prices so powerful?

Because it’s the only consumer good whose price we’re reminded of practically every time we leave the house, experts say. Unlike tuna, patio furniture, or sneakers, gas prices are advertised in 500-size characters on huge signs you can’t help but notice.

Gasoline prices have been so imposed on us that they can change our behavior over decades. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who experienced sky-high gas prices during their first years of driving in the 1970s seemed less likely to drive to work 20 years later than other age cohorts.

The curious part of the link between voter sentiment and gas prices is that gas prices have very little to do with who occupies the White House. Gas prices are largely influenced by the price of crude oil, which is a globally traded commodity. This commodity has been shocked this year by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, technical issues with refineries in the United States and OPEC+ production cuts.

Yet President Biden’s team is fully aware of the importance of gas prices, which explains his relentless attacks on oil company windfalls, his release of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and his visit to Saudi Arabia. , a major oil producer.

Price verification: The current national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline is $3.80 per AAA. That’s about the same as a month ago, down significantly from the all-time high of over $5, but about 38 cents higher than a year ago.

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