Are gas prices lower under Democratic or Republican presidents?

Gas prices have varied from $1.70 to $3.40 a gallon over the past 100 years of presidents, according to a new infographic. Can you guess who was in office when average gas prices were at their highest? Their lowest?

Scenes like this one in Martinez, Calif, were common in the fall of 1973 with Northern California service station operators threatening to shut down over the weekend to protest President Nixon's restrictions on gas prices. During most of the Nixon years, American motorists enjoyed low gas prices.

I Drive Safely, an online driver's training program, has come up with a great Election Day graphic that looks at the question: Are gas prices higher under Republican or Democratic presidents?

The graphic includes a century of gas prices from President Wilson (1913) to President Obama (2012).

The first thing that the chart makes clear is that some of that nostalgia for yesteryear – "I remember 25-cent gas" – is faulty.

While it's true that gas prices did average 25 cents a gallon during the Truman administration (1945-53), that doesn't take inflation into account. In today's dollars that Truman gallon would cost $2.51, according to I Drive Safely.

The second thing to note is that while gas prices have ebbed and flowed during the past century, they trended downward fairly consistently for the first 60 years. Under Wilson (1913-21), gas prices averaged $3.40 a gallon; under President Nixon (1968-74), they averaged $2.08, a 39 percent plunge.

After that, things get muddled. Prices climbed under Presidents Ford and Carter ($2.71), fell under Ronald Reagan ($2.49), rose under George H.W. Bush, then plunged under Bill Clinton ($1.70).

In fact, Democrats have occupied the White House when gas prices were at their highest (Wilson) and their lowest (Clinton).

Some analysts suggest that US economic performance is strongly influenced by whether energy costs are rising or falling. Falling gas prices help explain the rapid growth of the 1950s and '60s and the boom under Clinton.

But it's equally true that world events, not presidents, have had the biggest impact on gas prices. Carter didn't cause the second Arab oil embargo, he scrambled to contain its effects. Clinton didn't cause Saudi Arabia to flood the market with oil in its attempt to regain discipline and control among OPEC members, although he benefited from it.

The last president to try to control prices was Nixon, and all he got was rationing and long lines at the pump.

So how has President Obama fared? Not well. If it weren't for Wilson, he would have the highest average gas price of any administration over the past 100 years: $3.03. And that average is likely to climb even higher, since his term isn't over yet, I Drive Safely points out.

So did American motorists benefit more from lower gas prices under Democrats or Republicans? It's fitting for 2012 that that the race is close.

However, Republicans have the edge over the past century: an average $2.55 a gallon versus $2.63 for Democrats.

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