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Bush and the price of gas

updated September 14, 2006

While spikes in energy prices, like that suffered by poor Jimmy Carter, can doom a presidency, no occupant of the White House has ever seen his popularity so closely tied to the price of gas. In fact, more than three-quarters of the variation in W's approval rating since he took office in January 2001 can be explained by movements in the numbers diplayed on pumps nationwide.

Here are two charts that make this point. First is a simple history of the gas price (from the EIA — here's the long-term history and here's the update) plotted with Bush's approval rating, according to Gallup (here's the link, but you have to be a subscriber to get the data). The gas price is inverted, so that higher values are plotted below lower values, so as to match the trajectory of the approval rating. The last part of the gas line, the dashed segment, plots a projected value for October of $2.51, which is where it probably will be based on a NYMEX crude oil price of just under $64, which is where it was on the afternoon of September 14.

And now here's a chart that shows the actual approval rating along with the approval rating predicted by a simple linear regression on the log of the nominal gasoline price. The results are pretty similar if you use the actual gas price rather than the log, and the real price instead of the nominal price; this is just the best fit. The notation that "r2=.78" means that 78% of the variation in the approval rating can be explained by movements in the price of