President Obama’s desperate campaign to recast himself as a fossil fuel-worshipping drilling fanatic surely flows from the agonies of his reelection gurus in Chicago, who have watched helplessly as the price at the pump soars while the president has spent his time attempting to sow windfarms.
Obama’s more politically minded advisers may be aware of a fact his alternative fuel acolytes don’t understand: In every presidential contest but one since 1976, if the price of gasoline was higher on Election Day than four years before, the party or the president controlling the White House was booted from power. If prices went down, power was maintained.
That’s why after spending most of his presidency relentlessly pounding the lectern demanding greater use of alternative energy – and spending billions to get there – President Obama Wednesday found himself on a New Mexico oil field proclaiming, “Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.”
Today, Obama heads to Cushing, Oklahoma to try to mitigate one of the great mistakes of his presidency – rejecting the Keystone pipeline – by visiting a spot on the southern portion of the project, which he supports. According to Politico, he’ll issue executive orders aiming to expedite construction of the pipeline and other “vital infrastructure projects.”
Why? Because if history repeats itself, Obama is going to lose the election.
According the the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, gasoline prices are currently averaging about $3.87 per gallon. When Obama was elected in November 2008, they were at about $2.40 and had been falling rapidly.
It makes sense that, no matter the reasons people say they vote for presidents, gas prices may have an outsized, if somewhat subconscious, effect on their choice.
Like no other product, the price of gas affects our sense of well being. We feel the pain of rising prices not only every time we fill up at the pump, but nearly every time we pass a gasoline station.
Think of how often, if you drive, you find yourself checking out the price of gas. Higher prices hit us over the head like a sledgehammer several times a day.
When prices go down, we suddenly feel rich. It’s like getting a pay raise. It’s almost fun to pay for cheap gas. “Swipe that credit card, I can take it! It’s so much better than before. And less money for people overseas who hate us.”
The most obvious case of this effect – and the most comparable to the dramatic rise during the Obama presidency – is the increase during the Carter administration. Then the price doubled from 63 cents per gallon when Jimmy Carter was elected to about $1.25 per gallon in November 1980, when he was routed by Ronald Reagan. Under Reagan, the precipitous increases ended, and the price had declined gradually to $1.17 by the time he was reelected in 1984.
Gas prices also played a little noted factor when the White House switched hands from the Democrats to the Republicans in 2000. When George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in November 2000, the price of gasoline was at $1.52. Four years before it had been 30 cents less, at $1.22.
The exception to the rule was Bush’s own reelection, which occurred – just barely and during wartime – despite an increase at the pump in November 2000 to $2.00 per gallon.
But this is the exception that proves the rule. The Obama people, who have been insisting that there’s nothing the president can do about gas prices, better try anyway.
NOTE: This is a revised version of an earlier article.