Political realities and gas prices
April 23rd, 2011
04:01 PM ET
11 years ago

Political realities and gas prices

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama confronted two political realities this week:
- Rising gas prices are bad for a politician's poll numbers
- There is almost nothing a politician can do about it, at least in the short run.

The national average for gas rose another eight-tenths of a cent in the last 24 hours, to $3.856 a gallon, according to AAA. That's the 32nd consecutive day with an increase. Prices have risen nearly 31 cents a gallon during that streak, or nearly 9 percent.

CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley discusses the implications of the high gas prices for President Obama:

And during that same period, Obama has seen his approval ratings slide and an increase in Americans who say the country is heading in the wrong direction. The latest CNN Poll of Polls out Friday put the president's approval rating at 45 percent, with his disapproval number up to 52 percent. That's his lowest approval rating of 2011. (In contrast, 52 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing in mid-January).

Obama noted the poll numbers during a re-election fundraiser Thursday night in Los Angeles, telling the gathering at the tony Tavern Restaurant, "My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people."

Obama tried to empathize with hard-hit commuters at several stops on his West Coast swing. At another LA event, he said, "at a time of high gas prices - I know you've noticed," the crowd responded "Yes!"

The president said, "it's rough out there," trying to point out he's not that far removed from the impact. "I admit, Secret Service doesn't let me fill up (at) the pump anymore. But it hasn't been that long since I did."

In Saturday's weekly address, Obama again acknowledged the impact of the hikes on people: "Even if you haven't faced a job loss, it's still not easy out there. Your paycheck isn't getting bigger, while the cost of everything from college for your kids to gas for your car keeps rising. That's something on a lot of people's minds right now, with gas prices at $4 a gallon. It's just another burden when things were already pretty tough."

But, the president said, while the rising prices will be a political football, no one has a quick fix.
"Whenever gas prices shoot up, like clockwork, you see politicians racing to the cameras, waving three-point plans for $2 gas," he said. "You see people trying to grab headlines or score a few points. The truth is, there's no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away."

Still, Obama outlined his own attempt, having Attorney General Eric Holder launch a task force to look for fraud or manipulation of oil markets by traders and speculators.

And he repeated a populist criticism of Big Oil, pushing for the end of taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies. "That's $4 billion of your money going to these companies when they're making record profits and you're paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop," Obama said.

Longer term, the president's address called for more investment in "clean, renewable fuels,” tying it into the Washington debate over the budget and proposed spending cuts.

"That's why I disagree so strongly with a proposal in Congress that cuts our investments in clean energy by 70 percent,” he said. “Yes, we have to get rid of wasteful spending - and make no mistake, we're going through every line of the budget scouring for savings. But we can do that without sacrificing our future."

The budget fight ultimately will play a bigger part in the president's numbers and the playing field for the 2012 election. Obama's attempt to frame the budget debate on clean energy against the prices at the pump is part of the strategy.

Also part of the strategy: Next week's schedule takes the president to Chicago to tape an appearance on "Oprah" and to Kennedy Space Center for the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. A wide audience to make his case on the budget and a photo op at a mission commanded by Mark Kelly, the husband of Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, may be short-term political boosts as his re-election bid ramps up.

Obama likes to point out at his fund-raisers the unexpected crises he's seen since taking office. In Chicago, as he touted achievements in his first term, he told the crowd, "Along the way, we had to deal with pirates. Who thought we were going to have to deal with pirates? That wasn't in my campaign platform. Pandemic, earthquakes, oil spill."

He can add the gas prices to the list, with no easy answers.

Filed under: gas prices • President Obama
soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Terry P

    Enact a Law to make Oil Speculators on Wall Street take Immediate Delivery of the Oil they Speculate to buy on the open market and watch as the Futures Oil Prices plummet.

    April 24, 2011 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  2. The Greedy Old Pigs just can't quit Big Oil!

    The President is correct; there is no reason to subsidize Big Oil (and its associated death cult, Big War) when we should instead be subsidizing the green energy for the future. China and some European countries are already getting a big lead on the US. Both parties talk about making America more competitive, yet the GOBPbaggers are all hot air when it comes to making actual steps towards an energy independent future.

    April 24, 2011 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  3. diridi

    Obama, please cut subsidies to Oil companies, and invest in clean and renewable energy....focus on energy, energy and energy...education, education, and education...these two are must...I am sending some money for your reelection...Because I care about and of America "Too Much". God bless, Obama, and the USA!!!!Amen!!!!My pen name is diridi...not real name....o.k..

    April 24, 2011 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  4. clarke

    I would not want his job. He is to be the leader not the doer. His team is not doing a very good job at keeping him informed of what is going on. This man can't fix everything himself, but that is what people expect. He is only one person. May be you feel that way about your job, people expect you to fix everything while everyone else sits about.

    April 24, 2011 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  5. clarke

    I can't donate to fundraising, as I gave at the pump.

    April 24, 2011 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  6. Tired of the nonsense

    Arrest the oil company CEOs and the marketers for price gouging.
    Make getting solar/wind/natural energy items VERY affordable and easy to get.

    You're doing a great job, Mr. President. If things had been done correctly back in the 70's, we would no longer be dependent on foreign oil but the country wasn't ready to look at reality square in the face.

    April 24, 2011 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  7. chad

    America loves the free markets and letting Wall Street sociopaths manipulate the financial foundation of our country – except when gas prices begin rise. Then it's the president's fault. To those who say "let's drill here and in the Gulf!": We don't have the refineries right now to handle an influx of crude nor would it immediately be extracted in the first place. And seriously, do we really want to expand drilling in the Gulf where we had the worst environmental disaster in our country's history just last year? What new regulations or safeguards have been put into place to prevent it from happening again?

    April 24, 2011 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  8. Gonna be walkin soon

    I think it's time we put price controls on the fuel industry. That they make obscene profits at a time of financial suffering is not in the best interests of this country. They are a clear and present danger to the safety and security of these United States of America and should be dealt with accordingly.

    April 24, 2011 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  9. Terry

    Nothing will be done about rising oil prices, and the subsequent impact at the gas pump. Each crisis in the Middle East brings a bump in gasoline prices, all controlled by the world order. The United States has enjoyed the lowest cost per gallon, or imperial liter, while the rest of the world, other than countries within the Middle East, paid five or six times the US Price for gasoline. These current rate hikes are the result of a master plan to bring the United States more in line with the rest of the world when it comes to oil prices. So, the solution, while painful, will be to move away from imported fossil fuel, with a rapid increase in US Drilling Rights, coupled with a long term goal to replace of all fossil fuels with other options.

    April 24, 2011 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
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