Gas prices set to spike next summer

It’s never pleasant to be the bearer of bad news, but if you happen to own a vehicle and need to drive it to get around, you may want to set aside a few extra pennies for this summer. If Brad Tuttle is to be believed, prices at the pump are going to be heading in the wrong direction this year.

The priciest year ever for gasoline has just ended. In 2011, the average gallon sold for an all-time high of over $3.50, and the average household spent $4,155 gassing up their vehicles—also a record. And if you were hoping for relief at the pump in 2012, it looks like you’re out of luck.

At this time last year, the average gallon of gas sold for under $3.10. Prices never got cheaper than that, peaking at $3.96 in May, according to GasBuddy.

Right now, per AAA, the national average is about $3.32, or 22¢ more per gallon than a year ago at this time. If the price fluctuation patterns of 2012 follow the precedent set last year—and there’s good reason to believe they will—then drivers will easily be facing prices of over $4 for a gallon of regular, most likely by spring or summer.

This is bad news for two people who come to mind immediately. The first one is, well… you. Summer is the most popular time for vacations, and you’ll need to figure the increased cost of fuel into your budget. Plus, assuming you’re one of the people lucky enough to have a job, that comes out of your bottom line as well.

But the other person this bodes ill for is Barack Obama. Unemployment is the most often cited figure in terms of voter anger and a tendency to want to “throw the bums out.” But traditionally, prices at the pumps fuel voter discontent also. (Pun intended) You don’t want those prices climbing steadily upward just as the vast majority of American voters are beginning to pay closer attention to the race and thinking about how they’re going to vote.

There’s a bit of irony here, to be sure. You might think high gas prices could help out Obama, since it could tend to make more people think about hybrid or alternate technology vehicles. (Well… unless you’re already toasting marshmallows on the smoldering remains of your electric car.) It’s also true that we can’t entirely control the global balance of supply and demand when it comes to gasoline, but if Obama had spent a bit more time trying to enhance domestic production rather than hinder it, he might not have this problem next year.