How Political Rhetoric Follows Gas Prices in Two Charts
As the price at the pump surged this winter and spring, Republicans seized the issue to attack President Obama.
Mitt Romney called on President Obama to fire his "gas hike trio," three top Cabinet officials he accused of helping hike fuel prices. Then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pledged to bring back the days of $2.50 a-gallon gas. And Speaker John Boehner told his GOP troops behind closed doors that, "This debate is a debate we want to have."
As gas prices have dipped, the issue has all but disappeared as a talking point, both on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress. Two charts tell the tale. The first tracks the price of gasoline since January 2008, the last presidential election year. Since then, there have been three distinct spikes in prices, in June 2008, May 2011 and earlier this year.
The second chart is from Capitol Words, the Sunlight Foundation's fantastic project that tracks what lawmakers are talking about on the floor of Congress. And, lo and behold, there are three distinct spikes for lawmakers saying the term "gas prices": in June 2008, May 2011 and earlier this year.
The contours of the political debate and the gas price chart match almost seamlessly. In 2008, as the pace of the price decreases leveled off for a month, so too did the political chatter. In 2009, as prices fluctuated up and down slightly, the talking points on the floor did as well.
Economists generally agree that politicians can do little about gasoline prices, particularly in the short term. But that doesn't stop them from talking about it. Or the public from blaming them when prices soar. In April, an ABC News /Washington Post poll had 62 percent of the public disapproving of President Obama's handling of gas prices.
The good news for Obama, then, is that energy experts are predicting that fuel prices will continue to drop through the fall. USA Today last week led the paper with a piece predicting "$3 a gallon - or less - by autumn." Of course, dropping gas prices are a worry in and of themselves. Such declines are often a sign of a slowing economy.
Gas price graphic by Brian McGill