- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gas prices have been plunging, and those audible exclamations of relief you have been hearing in recent weeks have been coming from not just the pumps, but also from the White House and Republican congressional candidates.

From a peak of $3.04 per gallon in early August, when conflict in the Middle East drove the spot price of oil above $77 per barrel, the average U.S. price for regular gasoline has plunged below $2.38 per gallon this week, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Moreover, the spot price of oil has been falling so much lately (it dropped below $60 last week) that there is even more room for gas prices to dip — perhaps another 20 to 25 cents per gallon, according to EIA analysts.

When President Bush was inaugurated in January 2001, the price of gas was $1.47. At the beginning of 2004, it was $1.51. On Election Day in 2004, it was $2.03, having jumped more than a third that year. Yet, Republicans still did quite well across the board, winning the presidency and gaining seats in both chambers of Congress.

A week after Hurricane Katrina hit, a gallon of gas cost $3.07, and Democrats smelled blood in the political water. By the end of the year, however, it was below $2.20. But in early May, gasoline cost nearly $3 again. A Pew Research Center poll at the time revealed that 14 percent considered energy prices to be the nation’s most pressing problem. According to the USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted in early May, President Bush’s job-approval rating had plunged to 31 percent. In the so-called generic congressional poll — “If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district?” — USA Today/Gallup polling data from late April revealed that Democrats enjoyed a 54-39 advantage over Republicans.

With gas now below $2.40 per gallon and projected to approach $2.15, the president’s approval rating, according to mid-September polling by USA Today/Gallup, has rebounded to 44 percent. The amount by which his job-disapproval rating exceeds his approval rating has declined from 34 points in early May (65-31) to seven points (51-44) today. Also, Republicans and Democrats are now tied (48-48) in the USA Today/Gallup generic congressional polling question. And in September only 7 percent ranked the price of energy as the nation’s chief problem.

To the extent that the price of gas matters, the Republican electoral position is much better today than it was five months ago.

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