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A Quick Note on Gas Prices and Presidential Approval

A six-hour flight delay has scuttled my plans for a longer post today (and perhaps changed my opinion on the government’s new rules about how long planes can idle on the tarmac). But I wanted to point you to a little bit of research on the link between gas prices and presidential performance.

First is a post we did last month, which compared the performance of the incumbent party during presidential elections to inflation-adjusted retail gas prices. The conclusion was that gas prices had very little effect unto themselves: instead, the question is how they affected broader economic measures like inflation and G.D.P. Often, when energy prices are high, a number of other things are going wrong with the economy as well. But in the hypothetical world, where gas cost $5 per gallon but everything else was just fine, President Obama’s approval ratings would be better.

Next is a post by Brendan Nyhan, which discusses several studies conducted by political scientists on the connection between gas prices and presidential approval. Those studies have found, also, that the linkage is weak, and that casual analyses tend to mistake correlation for causation.

That’s certainly not to suggest that there’s no linkage at all — presidential approval data is tricky to work with. But reports that are drawing a simple, one-to-one correspondence between gas prices and Mr. Obama’s approval ratings — especially when there are other issues like Libya that may be pulling down his numbers — are probably a bit superficial.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.