Gas Drops At Election Time: Coincidence?

The Gas Price Conspiracy
The Gas Price Conspiracy

For two months now, gas prices have been in freefall, plunging 81 cents a gallon since August and giving the president some rare good news.

Gas prices started going down, CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports, just as the fall campaign began to heat up. Coincidence? Some drivers don't think so.

"And I think its basically a ploy to sort of get the American people to think: 'Well, the economy is going good, let's vote Republican,'" says one man pumping his gas.

Call the conspiracy theory crazy, but it's spreading through Internet blogs and over the airwaves. And a recent Gallup/USA Today poll found that 42 percent of people actually believe the Bush administration has "deliberately manipulated" the price of gas to effect the election.

"You don't think gas prices matter? Just ask Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter & Ronald Reagan," say University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "They'll all tell you that their victories or defeats depended in part on the cost of gas at the pump."

In fact, there is an uncanny connection between President Bush's popularity and the price at the pump. As gas prices rise, the president's approval rating tends to sink.

"You see what appears to be an almost perfect correlation that the president's approval is really driven by gas prices," says Andy LaPerriere, an analyst with ISI Group.

But La Perriere says there's no conspiracy.

"It's preposterous," he says.

Supply and demand determine gas prices, he says, and apart from controlling the relatively small strategic petroleum reserve, "there's virtually nothing the president can do to impact oil prices and gas prices."

In any case, it's Iraq that's now weighing down President Bush's poll numbers. Lower gas prices have made Americans feel better about the economy, but they're not making them feel better about the president.