Gas Prices and Presidential Approval – Sabato’s Crystal Ball


Key points from this article

– President Joe Biden and his team are grappling with a myriad of challenges, including high gas prices. Gas prices have risen in recent weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

– There is some connection between high gas prices and low presidential approval, although the connection is not particularly strong.

– This association has been weaker in the last decade than ever before.

Fuel for presidential approval

With inflation approaching a 40-year high, voters seem to be focusing on higher prices. A The Wall Street Journal A poll released late last week found that nearly half of voters named inflation and the economy as top issues, wanting the federal government to do more than any other problem. More than 6 out of 10 respondents (63%) refused to manage President Biden’s growing spending, and respondents gave Republicans a 17-point edge when asked which party was better-equipped to handle the problem.

An unequivocal reminder of the high price comes from roadside gas station signs across the country, which have seen gas prices rise steadily during the Biden presidency. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the “real” gas (adjusted for inflation and expressed in today’s dollars) was ড 2.51 when Biden took power in January 2021, and rose to $ 3.53 last month. This does not take into account the first few weeks of March, when gas prices rose by more than $ 4 per gallon.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons that go this far. One is that gas prices fell in 2020 due to epidemic disruptions in travel planning, which created travel demand to be met in 2021. Another reason is the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine, which has had a profound effect on Ukraine. World oil market (Russia is a major oil producer). There are many other contributors, many of whom will be out of the debate and certainly out of the middle ground (such as Republican allegations that Biden and Democrats are too hostile to domestic fossil fuel production).

We are not trying to explain why gas prices are rising. Rather, the recent spike in gas prices raises a key question: is there a connection between higher gas prices and presidential approval?

The short answer is that There seems to be some connection between high gas prices and low presidential approval, but the connection is not so strong and has weakened in recent years.

Our former colleague Isaac Wood saw it in 2011 and we’re updating his research here.

Figure 1 shows the trend of both presidential approval and gas prices from the first full month of Jimmy Carter’s presidency (February 1977) to the most recent full month of Joe Biden’s presidency (February 2022).

The purple line shows the President’s monthly approval ratings, as measured by Gallup, which regularly tracks the President’s approval ratings for the entire period studied here. The orange line shows the actual price of regular gasoline measured in dollars today, but keep in mind that when the y-axis scale measures the President’s approval (on the left) the scale goes up from the lowest to the highest, the y-axis scale measures the price of gas (right) ) Goes from the highest to the lowest when a scale goes up. It’s a way of imagining how high gas prices could pull the President’s approval rating a bit “down”. If higher gas prices actually contribute to lower presidential approval ratings, one can expect that as gas prices rise (and the orange line falls in our Figure 1), so does the president’s approval of those high prices. You can click Figure 1 to see a larger version of the image in more detail.

Figure 1: Presidential approval and gas prices, 1977-2022

Note:: A few months of presidential approval have been omitted because Gallup did not vote for approval in those months.

Formula: Gallup, US Energy Information Administration

Just in the visualization Figure 1, we can make some connections. The highest real gas price in 45 years came in 2008, a time of economic turmoil when George W. Bush’s approval rating was very low as his presidency ended. One could see a dip in Bush’s approval that seems to be related to the very high gas prices of that era. But it would also be a leap that the rise in gas prices is the only reason for Bush’s weak approval rating. Remember that reciprocity does not necessarily mean causation.

Speaking of reciprocity, we have calculated the correlation between actual gas prices and presidential approval during this period. We found that there was a -47 correlation between the ঐ 2 variables. The r-square value measuring the connection between the 2 variables was only .22 (this is a scale of 0 to 1, 0 has no connection between the 2 variables and 1 indicates a perfect connection). This is shown scattered between the President’s approval and the actual gas price, Figure 2.

Figure 2: Scatterplot vs. gas prices approved by the President

Formula: Gallup, US Energy Information Administration

This means that there was some correlation between the high gas price and the low presidential approval (hence the negative correlation). But the relationship is not particularly strong.

Interestingly, the picture of reciprocity was lower for the long period of 1977-2022, which was only for 1977-2011, when Crystal ball The last looked at this. At that time, the correlation of that period was -52 (including r-square of .27).

Just looking at April 2011 to February 2022, there was hardly any correlation – the correlation is .09, so the direction of the relationship has changed (going from negative to positive), but the correlation is so low that there was very little. Any relationship between gas prices and presidential approval over the past decade (r-squared was basically 0).

We have also seen whether lower gas prices are associated with higher presidential approvals. We did not find any indication that there was a link between gas prices and presidential approval when gas prices remained low in 2011 and now in 2022. So it could be that presidents get some punishment for the high price of gas, they may not be rewarded if the price of gas is low.


It makes some sense that whatever the connection between gas prices and presidential approval, the connection may be weaker now than in the past, as presidential approval ratings are not as dynamic as before. Both Barack Obama and (especially) Donald Trump had remarkably stable approval ratings, and Biden did not jump too high, having dropped from the mid-50s at the beginning of his term to the 40s now.

And most recently, consider this: Although gas prices have risen in the last few weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s approval rating has actually risen slightly, as measured by the Five Thirty and RealClearPolitics averages. On March 1, his average approval in both cases was 41% approval / 54% disapproval; As of Wednesday, his approvals were about 1-2 points lower and his disagreements were about 1-2 points lower on average.

Biden could face a minor “rally-around-the-flag” effect as the nation sees the outbreak of war in Ukraine. He may have received a small bump from his State of the Union address, which was granted March 1. However, the recent round of gas price hikes has not pushed its approval further down. But, in the long run, has higher gas prices contributed to its declining position since Biden took power? Most likely, but it is difficult to prove and there are probably many other factors that contributed to his downfall.

It is clear that a president would prefer a lower gas price than a higher one. The fact that higher gas prices actually contribute to lower presidential approvals is not so clear, although there is some limited evidence for this based on what we have found in our research. But we are in the age of fairly stable presidential approval ratings, which means it should come as no surprise that no matter what a single factor (gas price) affects the president’s approval, that factor may diminish in importance.

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