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Attitude Check

How gas prices are affecting Americans

Frank Newport Mar 8, 2012

Bob Moon: It’s time now for our weekly Attitude Check. Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport joins us now, as he does every Thursday. And today, he’s got gas prices in focus — and maybe $4 a gallon isn’t so bad after all. Good morning, Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Moon: So, when it comes to tipping points for consumers, is five bucks the new four bucks?

Newport: It sure looks like it. That’s what we’ve found when we ask Americans. And this is very, very important in terms of price sensitivity: what is the price of gasoline at which you would significantly alter your lifestyle; and at which you would have to significantly cut back in spending in other areas.

And the answer was $5.30 and $5.34. So it certainly looks to us like — and we’re nowhere near an average of $5.30 a gallon — but it would need to be up to that price before we’d really see, as you say, a tipping point where a lot of Americans had to alter their behavior.

Moon: And who do Americans blame for these gas price increases?

Newport: Historically, it was the oil companies, the oil companies, and the oil companies. But recently, in the last couple of weeks, Pew Research asked just that question — who do you blame? — open-ended question. And nobody got most of the blame. Obama got 18 percent; the oil companies 14 percent; the situation in Iran and the Middle East 11 percent. Speculation — which Obama mentioned in his press conference the other day — only about 4 percent. So there was no one villain that’s getting all the blame at the moment.

Moon: Well, no matter who they blame, is this something that should keep President Obama awake at night as the election nears?

Newport: Boy, he should lay awake at night hoping that the price of gasoline doesn’t get to $5.30. How’s that? Because we know, obviously, in a re-election year, people’s perceptions of the economy — how the economy’s doing — will affect his chances of being re-elected. And as we just talked about, if the price of gasoline gets to that price, it could affect his re-election chances. But at the moment, the last time I saw the average price was $3.70, $3.80 — so we’re far away from that at the moment.

Moon: Five bucks would sure keep me awake. Frank Newport is Gallup’s editor-in-chief. Thank you so much for joining us.

Newport: My pleasure.

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