Gas prices are falling: why that might not really help Obama
Gas prices have dropped steadily in recent weeks, and the issue is barely registering with voters. While that eases some pressures on Obama, it doesn't necessarily translate into more votes.
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Even if gasoline prices fall, it is not a given it will translate into votes, says Herman Schwartz, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. “Think about why they go up and down,” he explains. “A stronger economy leads to more demand; they are falling now because the world economy is hitting a rough patch.”Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Schwartz says oil traders are watching political events in Europe, where the French have voted in a Socialist president and the Greek political situation is in turmoil. “They are justifiably anxious that Europe is going into a deep recession,” he says.
In the US, despite the lower gasoline prices, the economy as a whole will continue to be a major issue for the voters, says Mr. Connelly. “President Obama is out of the frying pan and into the fire of economic statistics,” he says. “Now, we’re into other economic issues.”
For example, last Friday, the Commerce Department reported that in April, the economy created 115,000 jobs, a performance that leaves Obama open to criticism. After the jobs report, Mr. Romney, speaking on Fox News, stated, “We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery.”
The lower gasoline prices may also take some pressure off Obama to act quickly on the Keystone XL pipeline, whose owners have reapplied for a permit to move oil from Canada to the US after adjusting the proposed route. Obama turned down the first request for approval of the pipeline because he said it would go through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska.
“From the point of view of lower gasoline prices, it will take some pressure off the president,” says Professor Schwartz. “But it won’t change the underlying issue that the oil companies are making a lot less money with the pipeline not built because there is a glut of oil in the Midwest. The pipeline will help move oil from the low-priced Midwest to the high-priced East Coast market.”
On Tuesday, the oil industry trade association held a press conference to ask Obama to act on the pipeline. “To borrow from the president’s campaign, it’s time to move forward on this critical project,” said Marty Durbin, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute. “Keystone XL is as ‘good-to-go’ as it gets.”
As part of its efforts to convince Obama that the pipeline might also be good politics, the API held the press conference with Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, which identifies itself as nonpartisan. The Latino vote will be especially important in Florida, a toss-up state.
Latinos, said Mr. Lopez, have been especially hurt by the economic downturn. He reasons that there will be a “ripple effect” that will filter down to Latino small-business owners if Obama approves the pipeline.
[Editor's note: Figures in this story were updated at 10:30 a.m. on May 9.]