Obama, like previous presidents in times of high oil prices, is taking a hit. Only 39 percent of those who call gas prices a “serious financial hardship” approve of the way he is doing his job, and 33 percent of them say he’s doing a good job on the economy.
The Energy Information Administration said Monday that gas prices climbed last week to $3.88 a gallon, up 81 cents since the start of the year. That is the highest pump price since August 2008, before the financial meltdown.
Evidence of motorists’ hardships is littering the roads. AAA says the number of motorists running out of gas has been surging. John Townsend, a spokesman for the automobile association, said that cash-strapped members “are pushing the envelope” and that emergency gas deliveries to stranded members jumped nationwide, including by 40 percent in the District.
That sort of hardship could slow Obama’s reelection campaign. The Post-ABC poll shows that 60 percent of independents who say they’ve been hit hard by surging gas prices also say they definitely won’t support Obama in his bid for reelection.
In a hypothetical matchup with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the top GOP performer in the Post-ABC poll, Romney wins by 24 points among the independents who have taken a severe financial hit because of gas prices, and the president is up 7 percentage points among other independents.
At a fundraiser in Southern California last week, where pump prices are the highest in the country, Obama acknowledged the political peril of high gas prices. He said, “My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people.”
He tried to show that he feels motorists’ pain. “I admit, Secret Service doesn’t let me fill up the pump anymore,” he said. “But it hasn’t been that long since I did.”
The poll also shows the stubborn nature of gasoline consumption and the difficulty of weaning the country off its dependence on imported oil. About a quarter of all Americans say they would not alter their driving habits until prices, which are about $1 a gallon higher than a year ago, climb an additional $1.10 or to more than $5.
Although gasoline prices are just a quarter of a dollar short of their all-time record of $4.11 for a gallon of regular set in July 2008, the Energy Information Administration forecast this month that gas consumption would average about 9.3 million barrels a day over the peak summer driving season, a 0.5 percent increase over last summer.
“Population growth and a recovering economy contribute to gasoline consumption growth,” the EIA said, adding that high gas prices and better fuel efficiency standards would dampen demand. Consumption of diesel fuel is expected to climb 2.3 percent because of higher industrial output and trade.