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Why Obama gets less blame than Bush for high gas prices

at 11:03 AM ET, 03/30/2012

President Obama’s call to end subsidies for oil companies is likely doomed in Congress, and nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way he’s handling high gas prices.

Yet there’s one bright spot for the White House. Voters are far less likely to blame Obama for skyrocketing fuel costs than they were President Bush six years ago.

In May of 2006, 62 percent of Americans said President Bush could reasonably do something about gas prices in a Washington Post-ABC News poll. In March of 2012, only 50 percent of Americans said the same of President Obama.

What gives?

To begin with, Bush was simply less popular.

Overall popularity has a lot to do with how much blame people place on a president’s shoulders. When we polled this question in 2006, Bush’s approval was 13 points lower than Obama’s is now.

But even controlling for approval ratings, Bush fares worse.

Partisanship is also a factor.

Democrats in 2006 were more inclined to blame Bush for high gas prices than Republicans are to blame Obama now, perhaps because there’s more loyalty to Obama among Democrats than there was loyalty to Bush in the GOP at that point.

Seventy-three percent of Democrats thought Bush could do something to reduce gas prices, while only 33 percent think Obama could — a 40-point shift.

By contrast, 47 percent of Republicans thought Bush could help bring gas prices down, compared to the 65 percent who think Obama could — only an 18 point shift.

Independents are also more likely to give Obama the benefit of the doubt — 53 percent say he could do something about gas prices, compared to the 66 percent who thought Bush could.

Some also argue that the public has become more informed over the past decade about how the international oil market works.

“The public is better informed than it was ten years ago,” said Republican pollster and strategist Mike McKenna. “There’s a better understanding of how oil is priced, better information, better coverage in the media.”

While gas prices were almost a dollar higher when we polled this question this year, the rate of increase was higher under Bush, and the shock of that shift might have affected people’s positions.

Bush also likely gets more blame because he launched the war in Iraq. During his presidency, Americans named the war as a top reason for high gas prices. On this, the facts support public opinion: While short-term administration policies cannot really affect the price of gas, political events in the Middle East can.

But Obama isn’t getting off that easy. Even if voters don’t blame him, high gas prices have hurt his standing on handling the economy.

 
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