New York Times political blogger Nate Silver is always interesting to read even when he is providing statistical support for liberal conventional wisdom. In today’s edition of his Five Thirty Eight blog, though, Silver attempts to debunk the idea that rising gas prices will doom Barack Obama’s chances for reelection. “[G]as prices had very little effect unto themselves,” he claims: “instead, the question is how they affected broader economic measures like inflation and G.D.P.”
True enough. But though Silver admits that “when energy prices are high, a number of other things are going wrong with the economy as well,” he goes on to say that “in the hypothetical world, where gas cost $5 per gallon but everything else was just fine, President Obama’s approval ratings would be better.” Silver’s point is that there is no “simple, one-to-one correspondence between gas prices and Mr. Obama’s approval.”
But this is the merest sophistry. If gas prices go through the roof, as they just might were unrest in the Middle East to start shaking the foundations of even seemingly stable countries such as Saudi Arabia, they would have far-reaching effects on virtually every sector of the economy. Prices of all goods would skyrocket and the impact on consumer behavior would be considerable. Just think back to the mood of the country in the summer of 2008 when gas prices last threatened to reach $5 per gallon. If gas costs that much then everything else cannot possibly be “just fine.”
The problem goes deeper than bad economic statistics. While there are other factors that play into the state of the economy, this is one that has the ability to alter everything else and hits home to the average voter in a way that even the rate of unemployment does not. While there will always be those whose environmental alarmism or fundamental hostility to capitalism will cause them to think reducing the ability of Americans to drive their vehicles is a good thing, most voters rightly see it as an intolerable infringement on their personal liberty. Barack Obama cannot afford a gasoline price of $5 or more a gallon.