Gas prices fueling spring of discontent with Obama?

posted at 8:48 am on April 26, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

No President gains popularity while prices on anything spiral out of control, especially the fuel prices that impact the price of just about everything brought to market.  The Washington Post draws a little more data out of their most recent survey — the one with the ten-point edge to Democrats in the sample — and finds that people who have lost a significant amount of disposable income to high gas prices aren’t inclined to view Barack Obama as an economic genius.

And in other breaking news, water is wet:

Soaring gasoline prices are biting into household incomes and nibbling at Americans’ fuel consumption — and support for President Obama, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

About six in 10 respondents said they had cut back on driving because of rising fuel prices, and seven in 10 said that high pump prices are causing financial hardship.

Obama, like previous presidents in times of high oil prices, is taking a hit. Only 39 percent of those who call gas prices a “serious financial hardship” approve of the way he is doing his job, and 33 percent of them say he’s doing a good job on the economy.

The Energy Information Administration said Monday that gas prices climbed last week to $3.88 a gallon, up 81 cents since the start of the year. That is the highest pump price since August 2008, before the financial meltdown.

The EIA’s figures show the political problem for Obama, which isn’t the high price itself but the rapid rate of increase.  That 81-cent rise is an increase of 26% over less than four months.  That kind of increase would sting even if wages were growing at a normal pace, but wages are shrinking and new jobs are still scarce.  Thanks to the multiplier effect fuel price changes have in distribution channels, everything is getting more expensive, especially food, and consumers feeling the pinch are not going to be happy with the status quo.

Not to worry, though.  Obama says gas prices have been up and down, and he knows that presidents usually take the blame:

“My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people.”

The “latest crisis” won’t go away any time soon, absent another catastrophic economic collapse or a sudden breakout of pacifist love between all peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.  Supplies and distribution look precarious from producer nations like Libya, Bahrain, and other nations with chronic political turmoil.  As long as that continues, and as long as the US under Obama refuses to produce from our own resources, prices will rise even if demand slacks a bit, as it will do when gas prices get too high.

We may be reaching that demand-slackening point if the number of AAA rescues provides any indicator:

AAA says the number of motorists running out of gas has been surging. John Townsend, a spokesman for the automobile association, said that cash-strapped members “are pushing the envelope” and that emergency gas deliveries to stranded members jumped nationwide, including by 40 percent in the District.

Either that, or dating has really picked up this spring.

The oil crisis isn’t the only problem that Obama has with his approval ratings, either.  In the latest survey, Obama gets his worst marks on Afghanistan in this WaPo/ABC series:

In the Post-ABC News survey released Monday, 49 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Obama’s management of the war and 44 percent voiced approval. The disapproval mark is the highest on record in Post-ABC News polling. Overall, the figures have essentially flipped since January, the last time the poll asked the question. In that survey, 49 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan war and 41 percent disapproved.

The change in public opinion comes at the start of the annual fighting season in Afghanistan, a period that U.S. militarycommanders have warned will probably be more intense than previous ones as the Taliban seeks to retake ground lost to U.S. forces over the past year.

Interestingly, although the GOP remains more enthusiastic about the war (half think it’s worth fighting), two-thirds disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.  Despite the opposition on the Left to Obama’s efforts to bolster our presence and fight more aggressively in Afghanistan, only around 30% disapprove of his handling of the war.  A majority of independents disapprove, but it’s hard to see how a Republican will win them on this issue, as it appears that independents are skeptical of the war overall, although that’s more from implication in the WaPo’s reporting, as the data doesn’t break that out by affiliation.

Obama’s in a tough spot.  If he wants to win re-election, he’ll have to change the market dynamics to relieve the price pressure on fuel.  That will either have to come from increased domestic production or an effort to strengthen the dollar to change the import pricing dynamic.  The latter would be nearly impossible without serious structural reform in federal spending, and the former is anathema to Obama’s Earth Day sensibilities and political base.


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