Conservative writer Philip Klein reads the new polls showing Obama’s approval dropping and suggests that Republicans shouldn’t pin their hopes on rising gas prices:
Though this news provides some comfort to Republicans who had been worried about Obama’s improved reelection chances, they shouldn’t pin their hopes on the idea of gas prices remaining high up through the fall.
To be clear, I’m not attempting to predict where gas prices will be this October, when voters begin to solidify their opinions about the state of the country before the election. My only point is that gas prices are highly volatile and it’s often hard to differentiate short-term fluctuations from long-term trends. And even when there is an upward trend, there could be shorter-term dips along the way. Gas prices soared in the spring and summer of 2008, eventually exceeding over $4 a gallon, and it promised to be a major issue in that year’s election. Who can forget the chants of “Drill Baby Drill!” at the Republican National Convention? But by the time Election Day arrived, oil prices were taking a nosedive as the global economy crashed and pushed down demand, and the issue turned out to be a non-factor.
Obviously, there are plenty of reasons, such as instability in the Middle East, to expect that oil prices will continue to rise throughout the year. And any dip in oil prices from a collapsing economy would clearly not be good news for Obama, either. But the point is that oil prices are highly unpredictable, so it would be unwise for Republicans to assume they’ll continue to drag down Obama’s ratings.
Note the frank acknowledgment that Republicans are hoping that gas prices remain high through election day, whatever the financial hardship that entails. This isn’t to fault Klein, who is one of the best conservative bloggers working right now. It’s merely to point out that the idea that Republicans would be rooting for higher gas prices is not even a remotely controversial suggestion anymore.
The evidence is thin that gas prices can sway an election. But Obama’s team is still worried about them. They can step on the recovery. And with polls showing majorities believe a president can control gas prices, it’s not hard to imagine that they could make swing voters less inclined to credit Obama with the improving economy and perhaps contribute to impressions of his overall ineffectiveness.
That said, the polling on this is far from conclusive. A new National Journal poll finds that 44 percent trust Obama to make the right decisions to bring down the price of gas; only 32 percent trust Conressional Republicans. And 50 percent say the Dems’ policy of emphasizing conservation and alternative energy would do more to lower fuel prices; 42 percent went with the GOP approach.
All of which is to say that public opinion on these questions remains intensely volatile and in flux right now, with no telling how all this will shake out — and no telling how much of it is related to public impressions of the overall economy, whose recovery very well could accelerate.. And gas prices are expected to come down in the spring in any case. So while the Obama team is right to be concerned right now, over the long term this is anything but a sure winner for the GOP.