Academic journal

Gas prices could decide intermediaries. Here’s why.

The results of the midterm elections can be summed up in the price of a gallon of gasoline.

According to ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday.

Meanwhile, research has established a relationship between gas prices and presidential approval ratings that goes back decades, despite the limited control presidents have over fuel costs, experts told ABC News. Presidential approval ratings, in turn, mark a key indicator of midterm success or failure for the party that controls the White House, they said.

After hitting a summer high, gas prices have fallen for about 100 straight days, bolstering Biden’s approval rating. But a price spike in early October weighed on its approval.

Over the past few weeks, prices have started to fall steadily again — though they remain high — leaving it open to question whether consumers will recognize the trend and reward the Democrats or punish them for too little, too late.

“Swing voters will decide as they literally walk into the voting booth,” Colin McAuliffe, co-founder of left-leaning research firm Data for Progress, told ABC News.

The ubiquity of gas prices posted on towering road signs can affect the financial attitude of those who don’t even buy gas. For those who do, refueling provides a few minutes of rest with little to do, but watch the price slowly add up, experts said.

“People know their grocery bill has gone up, but they can’t necessarily tell how much the price of meat versus milk versus grain has changed,” Laurel Harbridge-Yong, professor of political science at Northwestern University, which has studied the political implications of gas prices, told ABC News. “Gas is a very visible item and an item that you buy one at a time, not bundle it with others.”

In 2016, a study published in the academic journal Political Psychology examined the relationship between gasoline prices and presidential approval rating between the mid-1970s and mid-2000s, finding that high gasoline prices Gasoline lowered a president’s approval. To be exact, every 10-cent increase in gas prices was associated with more than half a percentage point drop in presidential approval, the research showed.

Additionally, the researchers studied media coverage of gasoline prices, finding that the effect on presidential approval occurred regardless of price attention. On this point, gasoline prices contrast with other economic indicators, like the unemployment rate or headline inflation, which typically require media coverage that gives voters an idea of ​​the trend, Harbridge-Yong said. , one of the researchers who conducted the study.

McAuliffe of Data for Progress drew more recent findings, showing a correlation between gas prices and presidential approval during Biden’s tenure through August. “The correlation held quite strongly,” he said.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the US economy from an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, October 26, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, FILE

The continued salience of gasoline prices amid inflation under Biden comes as no surprise to Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University who co-authored the 2016 study. we see gasoline prices going up as much as they have gone up, there are clearly implications,” he said.

Despite the relationship between gas prices and presidential approval rating, presidents exercise little control over fuel costs, leaving them largely powerless to respond to perceptions of their performance in this area, experts have said.

The United States is expected to produce an average of 11.8 million barrels of oil per day in 2022, down 500,000 barrels from the record set in 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration. But oil prices are set in a global market, where supply shortages caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war and OPEC+ production cuts cannot be offset by a comparable short-term increase in U.S. oil production. .

Gasoline prices typically fall ahead of the midterm elections as the fall brings lower demand as Americans cut back on summer travel, said Patrick De Haan, an oil analyst and gas for GasBuddy. In recent weeks, the decline was also due to repairing damage at a series of oil refineries, which brought them back into service and increased overall production, he added.

“It’s normal for prices to drop at this time of year,” De haan told ABC News. “It’s not political.”

The price relief may have come too late for voters to notice, said Stanford University’s Krosnick.

“There’s not a lot of time between now and election day,” he said. “Obviously, any change in gasoline prices must take place and be detected by the public.”

Biden highlighted the problem on Monday, threatening oil and gas companies with higher taxes if they don’t relieve a supply shortage with increased production. Many of the major oil producers reported profits recorded in recent quarters.

On election day, gasoline prices will undoubtedly play a role in the outcome, Krosnick said.

“People bring a mixture of issues to the table. You can think of it as making a complicated soup with a lot of ingredients playing a role,” he said. “Gas prices are clearly part of the soup.”