How Chaos in Libya Made America Unhappy

The uprising in Libya has pushed gas prices higher, so people are upset

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A pretty bad poll for Obama just came out: 64 percent of Americans now believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, the highest number of his term and up from 57 percent last month. But he's not being blamed by pollsters. Here's why: In January, spontaneous populist uprisings began breaking out all over the Middle East. This drove up gas prices in America, the way political instability in oil-producing contries tends to do. Now, because gas prices are so high Obama is scrambling to shore up his numbers among independent voters.

The 64 percent figure comes from a new Reuters/Ipsos poll--that's how many people "believe the United States is on the wrong track," according to Reuters. The article says "Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said the rating was a direct result of gasoline prices that have risen sharply in recent weeks amid tumult in North Africa and the Middle East." Young comments, "Gas prices specifically are things that affect people's pocketbooks and have an immediate impact."

Okay, but but do the rising gas prices actually have anything to do with what "track" the country is on? There's only so much Obama can do, after all. He can skim from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the national emergency oil supply. And he can try to take a stance toward Libya and other volatile countries that might somehow result in less violence in those places, and subsequently, maybe, a dip in domestic gas prices. But it doesn't seem like a strong cause-and-effect relationship.

Obama's overall approval rating is 49 percent now. This is a drop from 51 percent last month, a change Reuters calls "statistically insignificant." What Obama needs to worry about are the independent voters: his numbers dropped from 47 percent approval to 37 percent among that crowd.

The gas price-approval rating connection is pretty familiar ground for pollsters. Take this 2005 Washington Post story, for example, in which Bush's low numbers were blamed on "pervasive dissatisfaction over soaring gasoline prices." Finance blogger Paul Kedrosky actually plotted approval rating and gas prices over time in this handy graph.

This may explain why Obama has been hitting the "compromise" note pretty hard in his public appearances lately. Independents like to hear about compromise--so it's said, anyway. "There are going to be times where we've got to try to find common ground to solve problems," the president said at a fundraiser yesterday. "Not everything is a fight. Not everything has to be a battle to the death."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.