Obama gains as falling gas prices blunt GOP attack

While the trend is 'a small positive' for the president's re-election prospects, it is likely to be overshadowed by broader economic concerns.

By MSNMoney partner May 9, 2012 2:54PM

By Mike Dorning


Declining gasoline prices have blunted what only a month ago was one of the leading Republican lines of attack against President Barack Obama.


After an almost uninterrupted rise since mid-January, average national retail gasoline prices have fallen 17 cents since April 4, according to the American Automobile Association. The $3.76 per gallon national average yesterday was 20 cents lower than the same day a year ago.


A plunge in crude oil markets and gasoline futures Monday suggest further easing ahead for prices at the pump.


The trend toward lower fuel prices is now "a small positive" for Obama's re-election prospects, though it's likely to be overshadowed by broader economic concerns such as job and income growth, said Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and co-author with Robert Erikson of the forthcoming book "The Timeline of Presidential Elections."


The greatest political impact will probably be the "absence of bad news" for Obama in an area that his political adversaries have sought to make a focal point of the campaign, said Andrew Kohut, president of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington.


Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in a March 18 "Fox News Sunday" interview there is "no question" Obama was to blame for rising gasoline prices. The Republican called for the firing of the "gas-hike trio," the secretaries of the Energy and Interior departments and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

TV Campaign


Americans for Prosperity, an organization backed by oil interests, two weeks ago began airing its third television commercial since November, a $6.1 million campaign attacking Obama's green-energy policies.


In April, 16,991 negative ads aired in various parts of the country and 13,748 of them -- or 81 percent -- focused on energy, according to data provided by New York-based Kantar Media's CMAG, which tracks advertising.


As gasoline prices were nearing their peak for the year, Obama mounted a two-day, four-state tour March 21-22 to defend his energy policies. He included a stop at an oil-storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, the starting point for the southern leg of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)'s Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone Pipeline


Obama rejected Keystone, which would carry crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, in January because he said a congressional deadline didn't allow enough time to review the potential risks to an aquifer in Nebraska, a step Republicans including Romney say has contributed to higher fuel prices.


Obama invited TransCanada Corp. to reapply for a permit for a new pathway, and the Calgary-based company did so last week.


As gasoline prices have receded, so has their immediacy as a concern among voters.


In a monthly Gallup Poll on the most important problems facing the country, the portion of responses mentioning gasoline prices declined to 3 percent in questioning May 3-6 from 8 percent in a poll taken April 9-12. Some participants gave multiple answers.


Despite the attacks on Obama's energy policies, most voters didn't primarily blame the White House for the run-up in gasoline prices and therefore probably won't credit Obama for the decline, said Dan Schnur, a campaign adviser to Republican presidential candidate John McCain's first bid for the White House in 2000.

Voters Blame Mideast


Sixty-six percent of Americans primarily blamed oil companies and Middle East nations taking advantage of tensions with Iran for the higher prices, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 8-11. Only 23 percent said the White House was more at fault.


Even so, the incumbent president politically benefits or suffers as gasoline prices influence the public's sense of economic well-being, said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.


"Any time there's good news and there are fewer pocketbook problems, it's good for the incumbent," Rothenberg said. "The White House has to be relieved."


Gasoline prices can have a "visceral impact" on consumers' psyches, because they are prominently displayed on signs across the country and because of the role they play in family budgets, said Schnur, now director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.


While gasoline accounted for 4.1 percent of consumer spending in March, fuel prices have a disproportionate impact on middle- and lower-income families.


In 2010, when prices at the pump averaged $2.84 during the year, gasoline purchases consumed 4.8 percent of the budget for middle-income households and 6 percent for lower-middle-income households, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey. Among the bottom fifth, gasoline costs were more than 10 percent of income.

More from Bloomberg

May 10, 2012 3:20PM
Wow, gas price here down 22 cents to $3.37.  Think I'll vote for Obama now. Sarcasm off.
May 11, 2012 6:02AM
The only reason gas prices are coming down is because the economic activity worldwide is slowing down.  Europe is in crisis, China's growth has slowed and America's recovery is sputtering.  When the economies of the world decline, the supply of energy rises, causing the price to drop.  When the economies of the world begin rising the price will go up as the supply declines. The only contribution this President has made to declining energy prices, are his weak economic policies that have not generated any economic recovery.
May 10, 2012 4:44PM
Another pro-Obama liberal news media article!!! Socialism is the end of a civilization not its beginning!!  Socialism in America is caused by congressmen using tax dollars and federal debt to buy their political power and we American allow them to get away with it.
May 14, 2012 1:22AM
WOW down a whole 17 CENTS!

Never mind it is UP over $2 since the day he was inaugurated........

But facts are just speed bumps to this administration......

Now lets watch unemployment drop not because they are going back to work, but because they are GIVING UP on even trying!

When American's fail, Obama claims victory..........

May 10, 2012 11:16AM

Obama is History. I live on the east coast working in NYC. I get to interface with many people. The negative talk about Obama has grown greater than the anti-bush chit-chat.of years back. I mean very few will admit they voted for him.


Gas prices aren't going to help either. Things are getting worse. Auto repair shops empty,etc. The average person knows things are getting worse and probably better than Obama.


This guy never had a real job.


Get ready to write about a new President.


May 10, 2012 7:49AM
OMG, does anyone really believe Obama is responsible for the recent tiny drop in oil prices?  Could it be that the US ecconomy is heading south again and Europe's economy is in the toilet and  China is slowing down?  Maybe oil traders have noticed this?  Could it be that US oil supplies are at glut levels?

Here's what Obama has done to "help" energy prices:
1 Shut down oil production in the gulf of Mexico
2 Delayed the Keystone pipeline 3 years and counting
3 Denied oil production in Anwar
4 Severely limited drilling on federal lands
5 Appointed EPA administrators who want to "crucify" big oil.
6 Crippled the coal industry and support the EPA's closing of coal fired power plants

I could go on but you get the picture.  Under this president gas prices have doubled.  Please don't tell me that anyone is stupid enough to believe that a few cents drop in a gallon of gas is swaying public opinion on this topic.

May 14, 2012 7:40AM
Is the editor for MSN the White House Chief of Staff or Press Secretary???
May 10, 2012 1:20PM
MSN hates Republicans - this is a baseless article with no substantiation of poll numbers.  People tend to read headlines and nothing else.  I think Obama is going to be shellacked in November.  And besides, we all know if gas prices are on the high end it's George's fault, not Obama's.
May 14, 2012 11:47AM
Republicans love to blame Obama for rising gas prices, but they are silent when prices drop. Democrats did the same thing to Bush when prices rose dramatically in 2007 before crashing when the economy tanked in 2008.

Truth is, the president has very little control over the price of gas, because it's based on worldwide supply and demand.  No matter how much drilling goes on, the supply is pretty much fixed, barring war or other major disruption.  Obama has been severely criticized by Republicans for delaying the Keystone pipeline and for enforcing environmental regulations. What they failed to mention is that most of the oil flowing through the pipeline would end up in China. Worldwide demand continues to increase as China, India, Brazil, Russia and others are buying more and more cars.  The only reason the price of gas has recently dropped is the slowdown in China and Europe.  Once their economies are back on track, gas prices will go much higher. Whoever is lucky enough to be president then will be blamed by the party out of power.

OBAMA is a communist, socialist, and dictator.  He has greatly devided this country and will point the finger at anybody to make himself look good.  He even blames others for his screwups.  I hope that communist bastard does not get re-elected!!!!!
May 14, 2012 12:01PM
I don't know what poll this author bases his finding on.  Real Clear Politics daily poll has Obama at a slight negative approval rating with slightly more of those polled disapproving of his job performance than approving.  He is correct that broader ecconomic concerns will overshadow the gas price issue and in that category, this president has been a total failure.
May 14, 2012 2:06PM

My God! These idiots on MSNBC type it up and we are just supposed to gobble it up hook line and sinker as gospel? Gasoline is a full $2.00 more a gallon than it was when Obama took office. His policies are mostly to blaim, or I should say lack there of! He sure has spent plenty of taxpayers money on green energy companies that have since failed! He has not done one thing in over three years that has worked in the past to get Americas economy going in a recession! His marxist ideology will not allow him to go that path and the reason he will be a ONE TERM PRESIDENT!

A measly 15, 20 or even 25 cent drop in gas prices will do nothing for this economy long term or his re-election chances. Obama has done nothing but set policies/ regulations limiting domestic oil production on federal lands and coal production. Increased domestic energy production across the board will begin a real economic & jobs recovery. That will not happen till America wakes up and votes Obama and Progressive Liberal's restrictive socialist policies out of government.Sarcastic

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