More than 70 percent of Americans say they expect gasoline prices to top $5 a gallon by the end of the summer, and a majority say they are driving less because of higher fuel costs, according to a Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports survey.
The previously unthinkable $5 price seems "very likely" to 42 percent and "somewhat likely" to 29 percent of those polled, suggesting that soaring gasoline costs have penetrated budgets and that consumers are pessimistic about relief.
The sentiment was not uniform: Self-identified Democrats, blacks and younger women were among the most fearful of high prices, while Republicans and self-identified investors were more sanguine.
Among those surveyed, 48 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans said $5-per-gallon prices were "very likely."
Democrats, the married and those who earn less than $20,000 a year were the most likely to say they planned to limit their driving distances because of high gas prices. Seventy-four percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans said they have changed their driving habits.
The nationwide average price for gasoline neared $3.80 per gallon at the beginning of last week, according to the Department of Energy, and has shown no signs of falling. The prices appear destined to become a major issue in the November elections, and candidates are searching for solutions to offer voters.
Two weeks ago, Congress passed a bill to stop filling the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. President Bush balked at the proposal, arguing that it wouldn't ease the price crunch. He later relented and signed the bill into law, but gas prices have continued to rise.
Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is competing for the Democratic nod, have called for a moratorium from Memorial Day until Labor Day on the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax.
Sen. Barack Obama, who is vying with Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic race, argued that a summer tax holiday was shortsighted.
Short of a silver-bullet solution, politicians have taken to assigning blame.
At a congressional hearing Thursday, Democrats taunted Mr. Bush for his acknowledgement months ago that he didn't know gas prices were approaching $4 per gallon.
"Well, for millions of consumers in New York and California, Chicago, all across America, $4 gas is now a reality," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
He said gas prices have increased by an average of 34 cents per year during the Bush administration.
Republicans responded by saying the price increases have been the sharpest, rising $1.50 per gallon, since Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007. They have labeled the increase the "Pelosi premium," after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
"In the period between January 2001 and January 2007, before the Democrats assumed leadership in Congress, gas prices rose 84 cents a gallon, which is a significant jump. But nothing compared to the Pelosi premium of more than $1.50 in just 18 months," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican.
The poll of 1,000 adults was taken May 21 to 22 and had a margin of error of three percentage points.
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