Americans Skeptical About Gas Price Drop

By BRAD FOSS
The Associated Press
Monday, September 25, 2006; 6:41 PM

WASHINGTON -- There is no mystery or manipulation behind the recent fall in gasoline prices, analysts say. Try telling that to many U.S. motorists.

Almost half of all Americans believe the November elections have more influence than market forces. For them, the plunge at the pump is about politics, not economics.

Retired farmer Jim Mohr of Lexington, Ill., rattled off a tankful of reasons why pump prices may be falling, including the end of the summer travel season and the fact that no major hurricanes have disrupted Gulf of Mexico output.

"But I think the big important reason is Republicans want to get elected," Mohr, 66, said while filling up for $2.17 a gallon. "They think getting the prices down is going to help get some more incumbents re-elected."

According to a new Gallup poll, 42 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that the Bush administration "deliberately manipulated the price of gasoline so that it would decrease before this fall's elections." Fifty-three percent of those surveyed did not believe in this conspiracy theory, while 5 percent said they had no opinion.

Almost two-thirds of those who suspect President Bush intervened to bring down energy prices before Election Day are registered Democrats, according to Gallup.

White House spokesman Tony Snow addressed the issue Monday, telling reporters that "the one thing I have been amused by is the attempt by some people to say that the president has been rigging gas prices, which would give him the kind of magisterial clout unknown to any other human being."

"It also raises the question, if we're dropping gas prices now, why on earth did we raise them to $3.50 before?" Snow said.

The excitement _ and suspicion _ among U.S. motorists follows a post-summer decline in gasoline prices that even veteran analysts and gas station owners concede has been steeper than usual.

The retail price of gasoline has plunged by 50 cents, or 17 percent, over the past month to average $2.38 a gallon nationwide, according to Energy Department statistics. That is 42.5 cents lower than a year ago, when the energy industry was still reeling from the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which damaged petroleum platforms, pipelines and refineries across the Gulf Coast.

Industry officials said the competition among gas station owners to sell the cheapest fuel on the block is fierce.

"They want to gain market share," said John Eichberger, director of motor fuels at the National Association of Convenience Stores.


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