What will Barack Obama say to a nervous nation to soothe its frayed nerves on the sudden oil-price spike and the seemingly long-term unrest in oil-producing nations that threatens to keep prices on the rise?   Whatever he has to say, it had better be convincing, because as Gallup shows, Obama may start paying a heavy price himself in the polls:

Seventy-two percent of Americans cite some aspect of the U.S. economy as the “most important problem” facing the country today. This is the highest net mention of the economy since February 2010, although still below the 86% peak recorded in February 2009 as Washington was focused on passing an economic stimulus plan.

The latest update is from a March 3-6 Gallup poll. The top five economic problems named this month are the economy in general (28%), unemployment (26%), the federal deficit or debt (13%), gas prices (6%), and lack of money (4%). The top non-economic problems are dissatisfaction with the nation’s government or leaders (11%), healthcare (9%), wars (5%), education (4%), and ethical/moral decline (3%).

Despite the political turmoil in the Middle East, including uprisings in Egypt and Libya, no more than 1% of Americans mention any of these issues as the country’s most important problem.

They’re definitely part of the problem, though.  Without those uprisings in North Africa and southwest Asia, oil prices would have continued their slow rise rather than shoot upward sharply.  That has impacted prices throughout the retail markets, and threatens to choke off any recovery that the White House wants to argue has begun.

Obama and the Democrats lost the last election on the economy and fiscal policy.  If prices continue to rise through Obama’s permitorium in the Gulf and opposition to increased domestic production at home, the midterms will look like a walk in the park compared to 2012.  Obama will need to take off the leashes on production now to significantly impact prices and markets in time to rescue himself, so if all he offers is more pablum about alternative energy sources being around the same corner promised for the last three decades, Obama may be throwing away what remains of his credibility on energy and economic policy.