Gas prices hurt red states more than blue states

at 03:19 PM ET, 03/07/2012

High gasoline prices are squeezing American drivers, but they’re not squeezing all Americans equally. Michael Levi points to fascinating new research by Trevor Houser showing that blue states are currently facing far higher pump prices — but that red states are suffering more.

No wonder Republicans are so receptive to $2.50-per-gallon gas. (Alex Wong - GETTY IMAGES)
As global oil prices have shot up, not every part of the United States has been affected equally. For one, there’s a glut of new oil from North Dakota and Canada that’s piling up in Cushing, Okla. because there aren’t enough pipelines to carry the crude down to refineries on the Gulf Coast. (The Keystone XL pipeline was, in part, meant to address this logjam.) That means refineries in the Midwest have access to artificially cheap oil that they can, in turn, convert to cheaper gasoline. The disparities are stark: Wyoming drivers pay $3.21 per gallon while drivers in California pay $4.34. And, oddly enough, the differences line up well with partisan patterns — Houser found that blue states pay significantly higher prices per gallon than red states.

But here’s the catch: Red states may enjoy cheaper gasoline, but they also tend to be less dense and have less-efficient vehicles, and their residents tend to drive more miles each day. Wyoming residents may pay less per gallon, but they use more gallons of gasoline. And this is a consistent pattern: Houser found that deep-red states are actually shelling out more for gasoline as an overall percentage of their income:

So how might this affect the 2012 elections? One lingering question is: What’s happening in the swing states? Houser found that they’re all clustered in the middle of his graphs. In many key swing states, prices are heading toward $4 per gallon, which could bode ill for President Obama. On the other hand, some of those states — Florida, say — aren’t hurting nearly as badly when you look at gasoline expenditures as a percentage of overall income. “Among swing states,” Houser notes, “Michigan, North Carolina and Iowa are getting hit hardest, while Colorado and Pennsylvania are faring relatively well.”

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