Gas prices don’t always decline before midterms

Some have speculated that gas prices will tend to fall ahead of major elections such as the upcoming Midterms, but historical data does not support that claim.

Gas prices have continued to fall steadily since hitting record highs in June 2022.

Some social media users have speculated the decline is the result of deliberate maneuvers by politicians, hoping to give itself a boost for the midterm elections.

“The closer we get to November 8, the cheaper gas will be,” read a Facebook comment. “Get the context.”

But is there really a connection?

THE QUESTION

Do petrol prices always fall shortly before the general election?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

That's wrong.

No, petrol prices don’t always fall just before federal elections.

WHAT WE FOUND

The US Energy Information Administration maintains historical data on gas prices dating back to 1993 each week.

VERIFY examined this data and focused exclusively on the standard years of federal elections, i.e. the even-numbered years. We have further narrowed down the two months leading up to the general election as many of the comments speculating about imminent declines were posted in mid-September.

By graphing the weekly data in each polling period, we can determine whether the overall trend has been a price decrease or a price increase.

Of the 14 election periods we analyzed from 1994 to 2020, prices fell in eight of them. The other six saw increases in the price of gasoline. That is, there is no clear correlation between election season and gasoline prices, regardless of which political party was in power before the election.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics also maintains monthly data on historical gas prices dating back to 1976. Because the data isn’t weekly, we can’t isolate Election Day, but we can get a general sense of trends by looking at the data the months of September, October and November. Of those periods in the 23 election years covered by BLS data, gas prices fell in 15 and rose in eight. So it’s more common for fall prices to fall than rise, but it hardly precedes every election cycle.

Energy economist Ed Hirs told VERIFY that fall gas prices can sometimes drop in part because gas stations are moving away from more expensive, smog-resistant formulations that are only needed in the summer.

“We’re going to a less expensive formulation for winter fuel,” he said. “There is [also] less need in winter. Give or take driving to school, you’re not driving on vacation. There can be a kind of slump in winter for a variety of reasons.”

He says a number of other factors are at play in the current price decline. For one, Chinese demand is below normal levels as the country is still often hit by COVID-19 lockdowns. Additionally, the effects of the war in Ukraine have lessened as Russia finds ways to export its oil through countries that don’t sanction it. The US has also been tapping into its strategic oil reserves for about a year, but Hirs says tapping hasn’t accelerated as the election approaches.

“No, the releases are very well planned. They are advertised on the very well [Department of Energy] site,” said Hirs. “So nothing unusual is happening there.”

Ultimately, given the numerous global market factors at play, there is only so much the government can do to bring gas prices down in the first place.

“The President is at the mercy of the market because the United States has a perfectly open market in crude oil and refined products,” Hirs said. “A consumer in Portland, a consumer in Houston, competes with a consumer in Tokyo or the consumer in Paris to buy that marginal gallon of gas.”

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so you can understand what is true and what is false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text notifications and YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn more “

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Alley Einstein

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