Tags: Poll: | Lower | Gas | Prices | May | Help | GOP

Poll: Lower Gas Prices May Help GOP in Elections

Thursday, 28 September 2006 12:00 AM

RISING SUN, Ind. -- Americans may hate politicians, but they love their cars. And from the look of it, a drop in gasoline prices may have made them like President Bush and incumbent Republicans a little better.

A poll released Thursday by Zogby International showed Bush's approval rating had risen to 42 percent from 34 percent in mid-August. In the same period, average U.S. pump prices have fallen 21 percent to $2.38 a gallon.

While Democrats hold a 9-point lead over Republicans when voters were asked which party they will support in the November midterm elections, Zogby said Republicans could benefit from the climb in Bush's approval.

Happier drivers seem a good first step.

"It feels a lot better when it's $2 a gallon instead of $3 a gallon," said Dan Thompson, a 43-year-old father of three from Lawrence, Kansas, who commutes more than 70 miles a day.

The drop in gas prices so close to the election has sparked conspiracy theories in car-crazy America, where 65 percent of households own two or more vehicles and drivers can do their banking, fill a prescription and buy food and even alcohol without ever leaving their vehicle.

"Sure gas prices are down. There's an election coming. You think that's a coincidence?" asked Indiana school bus driver and park director Mick Liggett, 61.

A Gallup poll showed 42 percent of Americans believed the Bush administration had deliberately manipulated the price of gas so that it would decrease before the Nov. 7 midterm vote. Internet blogs are filled with skeptics questioning the relationship between Republicans and big oil.

While both the White House and market experts dismiss the conspiracy theory, Republicans are relieved the days of $3 a gallon gasoline are over, at least for now.

"It's very difficult for Democrats to use this as a campaign issue when every passing week drops the price of gas a nickel or a dime," said Ed Patru, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Rep. Steve Chabot, an incumbent Republican in a tight race to retain his Ohio district, said it was "difficult to predict" how the drop in prices would affect the election. But he said fewer voters were raising the issue on the campaign trail.

Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House and six Senate seats to gain control of Congress. All 435 House seats and a third of the Senate's 100 seats are up for grabs.

This year's campaign has also been marked by an angry debate over the course of the war in Iraq -- which outranks gas prices as a voter concern in most polls -- and the fight against terrorism.

'LIPSTICK ON A PIG'

Analysts said pocketbook issues can often power a ballot backlash -- a salient warning in a country where the number of cars on the road, at 136 million, is nearly double the number of voters who typically turn out for a midterm election.

"Gas prices were a real dangerous thing for Republicans," said Dean Spiliotes, director of research at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. "Right now they've really come down, and if they stay down that's certainly going to help them a little bit."

Zogby said Republicans had more than gas prices to thank for their poll improvement -- their ability to focus voter attention on national security has also helped.

"Still, to paraphrase my mother, cheaper gas is better than a kick in the pants," Zogby said.

Analysts at the Energy Information Administration say gasoline prices could go as low as $2.15 a gallon in coming weeks as concern about the hurricane season ebbs -- but prices could just as easily go up if traders get nervous about instability in Iran or North Korea.

Democrats argue lower gas prices are not enough to offset other economic troubles, from stagnant wages to the gaping federal deficit.

Figures out Thursday showed the pace of U.S. economic growth slowed more sharply than expected in the second quarter to just 2.6 percent, while prices continued to rise.

"It's a bit like trying to put lipstick on a pig," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg. "Lower gas prices do not make you feel better about the fact that you're still earning the same wages you've been earning for years, and you still can't afford to send your kid to college."

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

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RISING SUN, Ind. -- Americans may hate politicians, but they love their cars. And from the look of it, a drop in gasoline prices may have made them like President Bush and incumbent Republicans a little better. A poll released Thursday by Zogby International showed...
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2006-00-28
Thursday, 28 September 2006 12:00 AM
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