Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"The Political Geography of Gasoline Prices"

From the New York Times' Economix blog:
Many readers were not convinced by my article in Saturday’s paper pointing out the lack of evidence that gasoline prices affect the outcomes of presidential elections.

The objections can be summarized as follows: Rising gas prices obviously make people unhappy; surely in some cases that must be sufficient to shift their votes. And since elections can turn on narrow margins, it follows that gas prices can matter.

This is fine, as far as it goes. As the article notes, gas prices do seem to exert a weak influence on voting behavior. But a recent analysis of the political geography of gas prices underscores the case for skepticism about the likely impact on this election.

The work by Trevor Houser of the Rhodium Group, an economic analysis firm in New York, notes that the states hit hardest by higher prices will not be contested in November. The so-called swing states, by contrast, are relatively unaffected.

Gas prices tend to be lowest in states that vote reliably for Republicans, higher in swing states, and highest in states that vote for Democrats. But Mr. Houser notes that gasoline consumption tends to be much greater in Republican states — so much greater that per capita spending on gas is significantly higher in those states.

Gasoline expenditures as a share of personal income (y-axis), partisan voting index (x-axis) and electoral votes (circle size). 
Sources: AAA, Charlie Cook, Gallup, Census, Rhodium Group 
Gasoline expenditures as a share of personal income (y-axis), partisan voting index (x-axis) and electoral votes (circle size).
In a second piece, Mr. Houser notes that this difference is amplified because states that lean Republican also tend to be less affluent, with the result that residents are spending a significantly larger portion of smaller incomes on gasoline....MORE
Gasoline Prices to Crush 'Blue' States, Dems Call for Strategic Petroleum Reserve Releases
Winners and Losers From Higher Gasoline Prices