What do high gas prices mean for the 2012 election?
March 7th, 2012
05:00 PM ET

What do high gas prices mean for the 2012 election?

Editor's Note: Michael A. Levi is the Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations where he blogs. This post is reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Michael A. LeviCFR.org

Pundits love to talk about how gasoline prices might influence the upcoming presidential election. So it might surprise people to know that political scientists have spent precious little time investigating the relationship between oil and electoral outcomes. The first step in getting our arms around how pain at the pump might play at the ballot box is to pull together some good data.Trevor Houser has done us the favor of delivering just that.

In a new research note published today, Trevor breaks down the gasoline picture state by state, and asks the gas price question three different ways. The first is the obvious one: how do current gas prices vary with political preference? Plotting pump prices against the state-level Partisan Voting Index doesn’t reveal much that’s surprising: blue states see relatively high gasoline prices, red states see lower ones, and purple states are in the middle. When I stare at the chart, though, one interesting thing jumps out. Most purple states have average prices hovering just below four dollars a gallon; if prices rise in the coming months, and the four dollar threshold caries psychological weight, that can’t be good news for the President heading into the summer.

Things get more interesting when Trevor asks a different question: how much are people actually paying every month? The chart above (reprinted with permission) shows the results. It’s precisely the reverse pattern from the one you get when you look at gas prices alone, and suggests that the two biggest swing states – Pennsylvania and Florida – are doing better than one might assume at first glance.

There’s a final twist in the analysis that’s particularly interesting. Several states are seeing booming oil production alongside rising pump prices. That can help offset the statewide impact of increasingly expensive crude. To very roughly estimate this dynamic, Trevor looks that the monthly per capita income change resulting from a ten dollar rise in crude prices, assuming that all revenues from production remain in state. With the exception of a handful of deep red states, and the possible (purple) exception of New Mexico, pretty much everyone else loses on net from high prices.

It’s a neat analysis, with a bunch more charts and specifics than I’ve shared here. Once you’re done looking at it, come back here, and share some anecdotes: how are gas prices playing politically where you live?

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael A. Levi.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Oil

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    Since Rep. Ron Paul in all likelyhood won't be nominated this year, let's just hope that these higher gas prices won't spell the election of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or Rich Santorum this November. Although Barack Obama leaves a great deal to be desired and is a war criminal, any one of these bozoes would spell a national disaster if elected as their love of war knows no bounds!!!

    March 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Well put, George. Nobody in their right mind would vote for any of those Republican bozoes, not even a complete idiot!

      March 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Any one with a portion of common sense shouldn't let his vote be taken hostage by the oil and gas prices.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  3. matt a

    Let's say the US becomes deeply involved in a Middle East conflict in, say, three months. And let's say the Straits of Hormuz becomes blocked for a few days. Investors and speculators, along with out-of-control federal spending, have dictated how the economy responds to a given stimulus.

    Whether oil prices might affect how you vote this November, you wishes will likely comde down to this phrase: Its the
    economy stupid!

    March 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  4. Sam A

    Wow, very uninformed comments on this post so far, despite the fact that we're all browsing a site where you would hope to find other intellectuals.

    This seems to define the mentality of most people who comment on this site-
    'Hey it's an article that supports my political views, and look, Fareed supports it! Therefore it must be a good argument. I know, without even thinking twice about the actual content of the article, I'll show outright support for my party and throw in a logical fallacy or two while I'm at it.'

    I'm a second year engineering student, but when I was in third grade I was taught how graphs are used to visually deceive people, with for example, scale. This article fails to mention important considerations as to why exactly the differences in gas prices exists across these states. One answer should be glaringly obvious. Let's look at an example of a liberal state, California. California is an urban and suburban sprawl that covers almost the entire area of the state. Gas a frequent necessity for anyone who lives in California because of the long daily driving trips that the average citizen has to make in a day. As a result, the state government wisely subsidizes gas to drive down gas prices within the state. Meanwhile, in a more conservative state such as North Dakota, the towns are small, and distance driving is not as common. Therefore, the government does not interfere with gas prices. That's why it should surprise no one that Florida is doing well in gas prices. As a suburban sprawl, gas prices are subsidized well, although the state has not had a liberal Governor in many years now. But of course Mr. Zakaria is surprised.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply

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