Faced with skyrocketing oil prices as they struggle to emerge from a deep recession, Americans are blaming speculators and the unrest roiling the Arab world.
As of Sunday, the national average price of regular unleaded petrol stood at $3.86 per gallon, while a handful of states such as California ($4.21 average) and New York ($4.07) broke the $4 barrier, according to the AAA motor club. Overall, prices are up $1 from a year ago. The last record dates back to July 2008, when the price of gas reached a national average of $4.11 per gallon.
In parts of the US capital, the price tag already runs as high as $4.99 per gallon.
That’s still a far cry from Europe’s long history of high fuel prices and taxes.
Europeans pay nearly twice more than Americans, about $8.41 per gallon.
Yet in a sprawling country where cars are ubiquitous and people rely heavily on them, Americans are looking for a scapegoat.
A McClatchy poll rele- ased on Wednesday found 36 per cent blamed the upheaval sparked by pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa for the price hikes, while 33 per cent laid blame on greedy oil companies.
Another 11 per cent said it was President Barack Obama’s fault while six per cent found Congress to be responsible.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around for high fuel prices in the minds of Americans,” concluded Lee Miringoff, head of Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.
But voters may also turn against Obama with his reelection bid gearing up.
Prices are going through the roof at a time when a CBS News/New York Times poll found 70 per cent of Americans believe the country is on the “wrong track” — a 20 per cent increase since Obama took office in January 2009 — while more than half disapproved of his handling of the economy.
Aware of the danger to his hopes to secure another four-year term in car-loving America, Obama discussed the concerns unprompted with voters as he toured the country this week in California, Nevada and Virginia.
“My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people,” he told Democratic donors.
In Palo Alto, he acknowledged that “these gas prices are killing you right now.”
And a National Journal poll of political insiders found that most senior analysts, including 75 per cent of Democrats, agreed that Obama’s Democratic Party will be “hurt more by rising gas prices.”
High fuel prices could certainly turn into political liability for Obama, who is renewing his push for renewable energy and fuel-efficient vehicles.
“Instead of subsidising yesterday’s energy sources, we need to invest in tomorrow’s,” Obama said on Saturday. “We need to invest in clean, renewable energy. In the long term, that’s the answer.” Agencies