I remember back in 2014 when gas prices spiked to $4 per gallon. I was surprised and irritated. Clearly, $4 per gallon was an unacceptable price to pay at the pump. Gas prices had more than doubled since I got my driver’s license in 2003. By 2014, I was in my twenties, with an unstable financial situation and the $4 dollar price was very directly, and very negatively, affecting my financial situation.
Now, of course, gas prices in my neighborhood are closer to $6 per gallon. I’m in my thirties and employed – but the $6 still weighs heavily. It takes $80 to fill up a Subaru? It’s unconscionable. In much of the country, the swaths of people without savings, health insurance, or meaningful employment are simply not equipped to handle the gas price surge. And the directness of the transaction, going out, filling up your car – out of necessity – every week or more, can make it difficult for many citizens to focus on any political issues besides gas prices. This is why, as POLITICO is reporting this morning, gas prices may dictate the midterm outcomes more than any other issues, or said another way: “gas rules everything around me.” It makes sense. Gas transactions are in your face every day. Only once an immediate issue is addressed do people filter down into less-direct concerns, like immigration or Ukraine.
“Look closely at so many of the metrics people have suggested are determinative in the campaign – from inflation rates to President Joe Biden’s approval number – and it becomes clear: Gas rules everything around me,” POLITICO reported.
The party in power, the Democrats, seems to have their fortunes tied closely to gas prices, in an inverted relationship. When gas prices rise, Democrats’ popularity falls; when gas prices dip, Democrats’ popularity rises.
Wizening to the trend, Biden has just released a three-pronged policy to help lower gas prices. Here’s what the policy looks like: One, Biden will release the remaining 180 million barrels of gas (authorized for release last March) from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; Two, Biden is calling for an increase in oil production; and Three, Biden is criticizing oil companies for failing to “pass savings on to consumers.”
Analysts believe that neither prongs one or three will impact gas prices, rather, those prongs serve to score political points. Meanwhile, a “complicated economic reality” will likely impede the second prong.
POLITICO gas reporter Ben Lefebvre explains the economic reality: “The real reason oil companies aren’t ramping up production as much as some would like is simple economics. The industry, after decades of burning through investors’ money, is now trying to hold to its financial diet in a bid to keep them happy.” Accordingly, oil companies are not expected to increase production – despite scoring record-breaking profits last quarter.
Another factor restricting oil companies from increasing production: inflation. Oil companies, despite their glut of resources, also have to pay more for everything right now – equipment, labor, and transportation. “And investors won’t give them more money if prices just crash again in the near future.”
Clearly, the Biden administration’s decision to announce its gas-price-reducing-strategy now relates to the upcoming midterm elections; Biden is hoping that announcing the strategy now gives Democrats a little bump, some indication to the public that the administration understands the problem and is working to fix it. Despite the transparently obvious motives, the administration is adamantly denying that the announcement correlates with the midterms in any way. According to Biden the move “was “not politically motivated at all.”
If POLITICO’s theory is correct, that the Democrats’ fortunes are tied fully and solely to gas prices – and Biden’s new strategy is unlikely to move the needle on gas prices – then Democrats would be in for a rough November.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.