Rising price of gas may cost Biden’s presidency

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Biden, Joe Biden

As President Joe Biden gears up for his reelection campaign, one issue looms large on the horizon: the rising price of gasoline. Last month’s Memorial Day holiday set a record for car travel in the United States, with about 38 million Americans hitting the road. While the increased travel indicates a robust demand for mobility, it also means a significant surge in gasoline consumption. For many, this meant higher expenses and prolonged time in traffic, amplifying the public’s sensitivity to fuel costs.

Historically, there has been a strong perception in the United States that high gas prices can significantly impact presidential approval ratings and election outcomes. A February Moody’s Analytics study underscored this notion, suggesting that a significant rise in gas prices could jeopardize President Biden’s reelection bid. The report highlighted that if gas prices approach $4 per gallon, former President Donald Trump could potentially secure a victory in the upcoming election.

In response to these concerns, the Biden administration has taken proactive steps to mitigate rising gas prices. Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the sale of 1 million barrels of gasoline from the Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve. This move aimed to stabilize supply and prices during the peak travel season. Additionally, this action was part of a broader strategy that included historic releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and substantial investments in clean energy.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm elaborated on this strategy, noting that the administration’s goal was to ensure a steady supply of gasoline between Memorial Day and July 4th, thereby alleviating the financial burden on Americans during a critical time. However, these measures have not been without controversy. Republicans have criticized the administration, accusing it of depleting national reserves for political gain. Rep. August Pfluger was particularly vocal, labeling the releases as desperate attempts to boost Biden’s poll numbers.

Despite these efforts, gas prices remain a contentious issue. This spring, the average price of a gallon of gas edged up to $3.60, with even higher prices in regions like the Northeast and the West Coast. Analysts caution that while the release of 1 million barrels from reserves might have some impact, it is unlikely to result in a substantial decrease in prices.

The relationship between gas prices and presidential approval is well-documented. A 2016 study by Political Psychology found a direct correlation: as gas prices rise, presidential approval ratings tend to fall. ClearView Energy Partners supports this, noting a meaningful inverse correlation between presidential approval ratings and real gasoline prices over the past four decades. This historical precedent suggests that the Biden administration’s concern over gas prices is well-founded.

Moreover, global events are adding to the uncertainty. Axios reported that the increase in crude oil prices, driven by crises in the Middle East, has spurred the White House to engage in energy diplomacy, aiming to ease OPEC cuts. The administration’s previous attempts to control gas prices, such as the release of over 180 million barrels from the SPR in March 2022, have left the reserve at its lowest level in about four decades. Republicans argue that these reserves should be preserved for genuine emergencies, not electoral strategy.

Economic experts also weigh in on the broader implications of rising gas prices. Randa Fahmy, a former associate deputy secretary of energy, believes that the increase in gas prices will negatively impact Biden’s chances, favoring Trump. She points out that many Americans view the economy pessimistically, attributing the high cost of consumer goods, including gasoline, to the president’s policies. In this context, voters may turn to Trump, hoping for economic relief.

On the other hand, some analysts argue that the significance of gas prices in presidential elections might be overstated. Roger Diwan, vice president of commodity insights for S&P Global, suggests that while gasoline prices do influence public perception, they are not the sole determinant of election outcomes. He emphasizes that broader economic factors, such as inflation and purchasing power, play crucial roles in shaping voter behavior.

Indeed, the Biden administration faces a complex web of challenges beyond gas prices. From managing the economy and responding to international crises in the Middle East and Ukraine to addressing concerns about Biden’s age, the administration’s performance across these areas will collectively influence the election’s outcome. Diwan aptly notes that any significant economic shock, including surges in oil prices, could be detrimental for a sitting president.

Recent developments have introduced new dynamics into the electoral landscape. Last week, a New York court found Trump guilty on multiple counts, potentially tilting the political scales in Biden’s favor. This verdict has invigorated Democratic hopes, suggesting that legal troubles might hinder Trump’s campaign irrespective of gas prices.

While high gas prices pose a significant threat to President Biden’s reelection prospects, they are but one piece of a larger puzzle. The administration’s multifaceted approach to managing the economy, coupled with evolving political events, will ultimately shape the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. As the political landscape remains volatile, the Biden campaign must navigate these complexities with strategic agility to secure a second term.

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