First, oil prices reached a four-month high on Friday. Then, prices plunged on Monday. By Tuesday, they reached a two-week low. For observers, the roller-coaster volatility isn’t anything new, but historically, such unpredictable spikes and drops have been known to affect elections. Not this time, though, say National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders.
Nearly 73 percent of Insiders said oil-price volatility will not affect the November election, noting that at this point, “the public is numb” to this instability.
“Americans at this point may be resigned to the volatility of the market and the inability for any president to affect it,” one Insider said.
Moreover, the volatility is so expected by now that it has been accounted for by pollsters and forecasters, Insiders said.
“Prices are so high and volatile already that the risk factor is already calculated in the vote,” one Insider said.
The only way in which prices could affect President Obama’s chances for reelection would be if there is a dramatic spike between now and Nov. 6, Insiders said.
“If unrest in the Middle East causes prices to increase substantially, then it will hurt Obama. But as long as the price of oil stays below $120, then I don’t think continued volatility will have much impact,” one Insider said.
But more than 27 percent of Insiders said it is likely that oil-price volatility could still affect the outcome in November.
“Oil prices could have an impact on the election if they were to spike significantly before the election. With the unrest in the Middle East at the moment, that is not an unexpected scenario,” one Insider said. “If anything, it may bring the race closer than it is now.”
But Obama would still have some tools to counter those effects, explained another Insider.
“The Obama administration has many ways to show sympathy with drivers—CAFE and SPR among them,” the Insider said, referring to the administration’s efforts to ramp up vehicle fuel efficiency and the option it still has to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat price spikes.
“If gas prices go up, the president’s numbers go down. Chicago is very aware of this, which is why they keep floating the SPR tap,” said one Insider, citing the rumors that the administration is considering tapping the emergency supply again.
Energy and Environment Insiders also argued that GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s recent jab at Obama’s climate stance won’t have much of an effect in November either.
Sixty-five percent of Insiders said that Romney’s zinger won’t make a difference on an issue where the battle lines have long been drawn.
During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney took a shot at Obama’s position on climate change, telling convention-goers that “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” but that he plans to "help you and your family” instead. And he has repeated the sentiment quite a few times since.
The statement has incensed environmental activists and has earned Romney a few laughs, but that’s about all it will do, Insiders said.
“The political base for each candidate will take what they want from the positions of each candidate as reinforcement for decisions already made. I doubt that 'undecided' voters are going to be swayed due to a candidate's position on climate change,” one Insider said.
In that regard, Insiders argued that the issue of climate change itself isn’t at top of mind for many voters leading into November.
“Environmental issues are only important in presidential campaigns when there are no guns-and-butter issues—there are plenty of butter issues this year, and now some gun issues, so climate change has been shoved off the field,” one Insider said.
Still, more than 22 percent of Insiders said that Romney’s climate stance could hurt him, noting that it just gives the Obama camp more ammo for upcoming debates.
“Romney's zinger won hearts and minds on the right, but it made his climate flip-flop even more pronounced and Obama will probably make hay with the flip-floppery in debates,” one Insider said.
Historically, presidential approval ratings have been inversely tied to oil prices. Will oil-price volatility affect the outcome of the November election?
- Yes 27.5%
- No 72.5%
“Oil prices could have an impact on the election if they were to spike significantly before the election. With the unrest in the Middle East at the moment, that is not an unexpected scenario. If anything, it may bring the race closer than it is now.”
“If gas prices go up, the president's numbers go down. Chicago is very aware of this, which is why they keep floating the SPR tap. Mideast tensions will further add pressure—at the pump and at the polls.”
“The president will continue to struggle to explain his record on energy policy while [per-gallon] gas prices have risen from $1.85 to $3.86 during his tenure.
“In this economy, people are voting with the pocketbooks, and high gas prices are perceived to be something the national government can control.”
“Yes, the volatility will affect the outcome, but most likely to the benefit of President Obama. Monday's $3-a-barrel drop is now being followed by a further plunge [on Tuesday] and it is likely prices will continue to drop this fall. And if they don't, the president has made it clear that he's willing to deploy the SPR and the market knows that remains a possibility.”
“Voters are much more accustomed to higher gasoline prices than they used to be.”
“I think the public is numb and there are other issues superseding energy prices.”
“Only a major upswing in price will make a difference.”
“Oil-price volatility has been relatively low; it's prices that are high, and persistently so. Even so, the Obama administration has many ways to show sympathy with drivers—CAFE and SPR among them.”
“Unless there is a substantial rise or drop (plus or minus $15), the public is used to volatility—nothing new here.”
“Likely not, unless international events in remaining weeks prior to election cause dramatic spike in global oil prices. Assuming prices remain 'relatively' stable, the impact of the president's energy policies are already 'baked into' the polling numbers we are seeing.”
“Unless there is a sudden sharp upward movement of prices at the pump, it won't have an independent effect. While the American Petroleum Institute would like to turn us all into 'energy voters,' real voters are likely to view the economy holistically in making their choices.”
This article appears in the September 20, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.