Political realities and gas prices
April 23rd, 2011
04:01 PM ET
12 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. Debra From Georgia

    President Obama you are a fine President and happy Easter.

    April 23, 2011 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  2. Proud member of "Global Zero"

    Sorry, this is the best thing for us. We have coal mine disasters, oil rigs blowing up, peoples water being contaminated by pollutants and natural gas. I make about 23,000. a year. I gave up my part time job 42 miles away from my house. We sold my SUV and bought an old car that gets good gas mileage. My family car pools to work and then I bike home 5 miles.

    I am 53....this is not a problem for me unless we cannot elect people that can see that wind, solar, and battery power is the way to go. Quit electing oil and coal lobbyist. I want to see my children (young adults) living on a much better planet. This will bring jobs back to the US. OUR OIL COMES FROM CANADA.

    April 23, 2011 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  3. Ancient Texan

    Here's a clue Mr. President; repeal the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. That would be a tiny little hint that we as a nation are serious about developing our own resources instead of having to be held hostage by nations that hate us.

    April 23, 2011 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  4. Larry L

    The first industrialized nation to truly embrace renewable energy will ultimately become the world's most powerful country. The Dutch did it with wind power, followed by the Brits with coal, and later America came along with oil and gas. Each power source had it's moment in history and each got displaced by a more reasonable form of energy. Global climate will drive us away from fossil fuels and pretending otherwise is denial. China gets it – and they'll likely rule the economic world while our conservatives sit around and wish it was 1955 again.

    April 23, 2011 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  5. JD

    Drilling in the Gulf is not going to change anything... This is purely a political thing.. the oil companies know for a fact that this will hurt obama..

    April 23, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  6. Indy

    There is no amount of drilling in the US that will make a lick of difference in the cost of fuel. The bottom line is alternative energy and it is the only answer that will help with the price of gas. Some people think that this problem can be solved by drilling more weels and nothing could be further from the truth. While 80% of imported oil comes from Canada that does not save Canada from currently paying $6.00 a gallon. There is no one person that can help with the price of fuel and even if you are POTUS you have no power to change the price per gallon. There are many countries that are years ahead in alternative energy such as Brazil and for any country that does not focus on alternative energy will find themselves into the abyss of the global economy. The Republicans love to lie about pretending they can fix the price of fuel but never in modern history has it been done by any politician.

    April 23, 2011 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  7. oilmann

    This is what you get when you have a president who has a failed energy policy.

    April 23, 2011 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  8. Dean

    To Larry L – give me something to drive that doesn't use oil and I will. And don't say use public transportation. There isn't any for the people who don't live in the 6 or 7 large metro areas of this country. Until them people like you be ready to dish out a lot more money for the food that farmers and ranchers produce for you.
    Obama drill baby drill. Quit giving oil companies money. The oil producers can't grow food. We need to create an OFEC (organization of food producing countries) and charge tehm for food what they charge us for oil.
    You want to tax the wealthy, put an 80% tax on profits of commodities traders and speculators.

    April 23, 2011 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  9. Dean

    Debra – Obama is not a fine president. He isn't even a fair president. He is the worst we have ever had. Every program he has created has cost workers lots of money. The only people who have benefited from Obama are the ones living on the government's teat.

    April 23, 2011 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    If we want to curb oil speculation – which is driving up prices – we need to require oil speculators to take possession of what they're buying. Right now, it's all on paper and very easy to manipulate prices BECAUSE THEY NEVER HAVE TO ACTUALLY HAUL AND STORE THE OIL.

    Let's get rid of these paper-pushing money-grubbers who so easily and disastrously mess with our economy!

    April 23, 2011 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  11. ThinkAgain

    Like so many on the right, Ancient Texan, you are woefully uninformed when it comes to where we get our foreign oil from. Here's a clue: We get most of our foreign oil from Canada and Mexico.

    Not exactly "nations that hate us."

    April 23, 2011 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  12. usualone

    The President has to get this message out to everyone besides those who read CNN and other such publications. Most people probably think he can do something about the oil prices and it will be a hard sell otherwise. He also has to toot his horn long and clear on what he has accomplished. Regarding the health care package, he also has to show exact examples hof how people will be helped, and also if any have been already received benefits. The Republicans will use those two items as their crowning shouting matches. And sadly too many people will only hear the loudest roar. Hopefully, he is aware that some dark horse may enter the race, a person very few people will know anything about and he/she won't act like a clown like the current crop of newsworthy Republican potential candidates.

    April 23, 2011 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  13. Ken

    The days of ignoring such issues as energy are nigh. We will have to face the harsh realities of a national deficit that won't go away without spending cuts, an energy policy that won't work without the formulation of a workable energy policy both for the short term and the long term, and the answer to all of these compelling issues will be found when the powers that be decide to make decisions based upon being concerned citizens rather than blathering party liners. We need leadership and common sense in government.
    BTW, everyone is scared of Trump and that's a good thing for government. He can't be bought and he speaks his mind–two things that neither party has enough of. He likely won't get elected, but he will force both sides to address the issues that matter most to Americans and that can't be bad.

    April 23, 2011 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  14. ThinkAgain

    Larry L: "The first industrialized nation to truly embrace renewable energy will ultimately become the world's most powerful country."

    I wholeheartedly agree!

    Regarding your last statement, "China gets it – and they'll likely rule the economic world while our conservatives sit around and wish it was 1955 again."

    I think a better explanation is that US oil companies are actually multi-national entities and really couldn't care less about what happens to our country. They are chasing the almighty dollar and aren't concerned with which country leads in this century, as long as they are making money.

    April 23, 2011 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  15. kitty

    A great idea would be for the Senate and Congress to pay for their own vehicles and cars instead of screwing the American people with your despicable waste! It's grossly unfair for Americans to pick up your travel expenses anymore!
    All of you make more money than you should and don't do anything to earn it. Enough with your greed and start doing what you were voted to do!

    April 23, 2011 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  16. Bernard

    Wish you could teach common sense...Hybrids (toyota, Honda, Ford) that's the transition from oil to other forms of automotive fuel..but what did Obama do? he bailed out GM which then announced its flagship (a camaro muscle car!)
    and by the way, a policy of increased drilling NOW will bring the cost of oil per barrel down NOW. Look at history...but you can't teach common sense and Obama has none.

    April 23, 2011 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  17. the real ib

    Coal can be cleaned and we have more of it than anything. Wind power kills birds by the hundreds plus they are noisy and if you build on a mountain top wouldn't the tops of the trees have to be cut to give the wind a clear path? We also have a lot of natural gas and oil; drill; we can be energy independant without making it so expensive that families can only pay their gas and electric bill and not have money to enjoy anything else. Obama needs to wake up he is killing the middle class and poor and people still blame it on the republicans. Smart people; your party tells you it's the republicans doing it to you while they laugh behind your back.

    April 23, 2011 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  18. Aaron

    The sad part is that there is something that the president can do about if he's brave enough. Push for renewable energy development even if gas prices go down. Also, enforce the anti-monopoly, price gouging, and price fixing laws. Drag some of these oil barons in on crminal charges, and you'll see gas prices fluctuate more with supply and demand, rather than pure greed. But, alas, no politician is going to bite the hands that feed them and make them filthy rich.

    April 23, 2011 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  19. CaliforniaBC

    This is solely on the heads of the speculators and the futures markets. Period. They are the ones who need to be regulations. They're making money off "what-if's" and we are suffering for it. There has been NO disruption in oil supplies yet their betting on "what happens if?" is killing us.

    Obama is the only one trying to get us off oil and onto more stable energy sources. The GOP just keeps cozying up their oil industry buddies blocking every attempt to switch to cleaner and more stable sources.

    April 23, 2011 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  20. Proud member of "Global Zero"

    @ Ancient Texan.....no more drilling. You had your time with the drill here and drill now crowd. Please read my post. I am from Texas too. I love it when the "Ozone" is safe to go outside.....maybe you should think about your children and their children instead of thinking about yourself.

    April 23, 2011 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  21. DB

    Where is the media outrage blaming president like they did it to bush. what a bias media turing back on average joe?

    April 23, 2011 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  22. Annie

    Earmarks…..In 2010 our congress and senate voted to spend $16 BILLION on earmarks when the American people are pinching pennies to pay for food and gas. Even though the politicians can not make a decision allowing the government to work more efficiently, it is easy for them to continually give away Main Streets Money. An example is $1.9 MILLION Dollars for a pleasure beach water taxi service in Connecticut. I wonder which politician owns this. We subsidies oil companies, we subsidies agriculture.
    My question to you is, for the past 10 to 12 years what is the total dollar amount of the subsidies to the rich and the total of 12 years of earmarks. This is money that belongs to the American people. I would not be surprised if the earmarks and subsidies for 12 years equal at least half of the deficit.

    April 23, 2011 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  23. J. Samuel Cook

    Ancient Texan, where have you been?

    The moratorium on drilling has been lifted for months. Even then, the government does not control the oil produced from domestic rigs; private industry does. And private industry, assisted by Wall Street speculators, determines the price we pay at the pump.

    Taxes are at record lows, and the oil industry got a $4 billion tax rebate. What did you get last year?

    April 23, 2011 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  24. Jerry

    I tried putting a windmill on my bike, but it didn't work.

    April 23, 2011 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  25. Good/Bad

    Here's another clue Ancient Texan currently the oil supply is in a glut increasing a glut supply wont bring down the price. This is not tied into needing to increase oil production as the price push is being pressured independent of supply. Additionally seeing as the larger majority of our oil comes from Canada (#1) and Mexico (#2) I'm going to hazard a guess and say its not primarily countries that hate us holding us hostage.

    April 23, 2011 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
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