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Could Rising Petrol Prices Hurt Obama’s Reelection Chances?

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Over the past few weeks, the price of petrol in America jumped about 30 cents per gallon, that is, about 11 n...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Over the past few weeks, the price of petrol in America jumped about 30 cents per gallon, that is, about 11 naira per liter. That pushed the average price of petrol in the country to $3.7 per gallon, or 145 naira per liter.

Of course, that’s the national average. The prices vary from state to state. For instance, here in Atlanta, I paid $2.70 per gallon, or about 106 naira per liter, to fill my tank last week. But that’s still overpriced even by the standards of prosperous America.  So Americans are angry as hell. And this anger could hurt Obama’s reelection chances later this year. But why should you care? What has that got to do with you in Nigeria? I will come to that shortly.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on March 27, “Sixty-eight percent [of Americans] disapprove and 24 percent approve of how Obama is responding to price increases that have become one of the biggest issues in the 2012 presidential campaign.”

An earlier ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted between March 7 and March 10 showed that “Americans by a broad 65-26 percent disapprove of how the president is handling the price of gas…. Strong critics outnumber strong approvers by nearly 4-1. And it's important: A vast 89 percent are concerned about the recent run-up in gas prices; 66 percent are ‘very’ concerned about it.”

As you would expect, while Obama is edgy over this development, especially coming at a time when he was beginning to enjoy an up-tick in his approval ratings from the American public, his Republican opponents are milking the situation for what it’s worth.
Barack Obama and Goodluck Jonathan
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed my writing on the Nigerian “fuel subsidy” crisis early this year. For instance, in my January 14, 2012 article titled “Why ordinary Americans are also angry with Goodluck Jonathan,” I wrote: “In America, with all its vast material prosperity, the surest way for any government to collapse irretrievably is to encourage any policy that causes the price of petrol to go up. As TIME put it beautifully, ‘One of the fastest ways to alienate voters is to be seen supporting anything that intensifies pain in the pump.’”

Although Obama is taking a lot of heat for the rising cost of petrol here, his policies are not directly responsible for it. It’s the fluctuations in the international oil market and the greed of oil companies that are to blame. Interestingly, most Americans know this. In the Reuters/Ipsos poll I cited earlier, 36 percent of Americans polled said "oil companies that want to make too much profit" should be held responsible for the spike in the pump price of petrol.

“Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said so, as did 44 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of independents. Twenty-six percent of all respondents said a range of factors was equally to blame, including oil companies, politicians, foreign countries that dominate oil reserves and environmentalists who want to limit oil exploration,” the poll said.

But in spite of the knowledge that the Obama administration is not directly blameworthy for America’s current pain in the pump, to borrow TIME magazine’s characterization of the effect of petrol price increase, his reelection chances are in danger of being severely undermined by it. That’s how sensitive Americans are to increases in petrol prices.

Although Americans enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world and have incomes that can absorb the shock of a few cents’ increase in the price of petrol, they get as angry as Nigerians do when they are asked to pay more for energy costs. Of course, they don’t go on strikes and demonstrations like we do, but they register their displeasure through the ballot.

That’s not an option in Nigeria because our electoral system has no integrity and therefore has no revolutionary potential of even the mildest kind. So mass protests are our only means to resist oppressive policies.

Although historical trends show that Obama might survive the consequence of the increase in petrol prices, especially because the economy is improving dramatically under his watch and because his policies aren’t responsible for the price hike, he isn’t taking any chances. His government is working day and night to bring down petrol prices.

Contrast that to our situation in Nigeria where governments claim that it is only by increasing energy prices that they can improve the lives of the people they govern.

At the official price of 97 naira per liter (equivalent to $2.46 per gallon in America) Nigerians, with one of the lowest minimum wages in the world, are paying close to what Americans with no petrol-exporting capacities are crying over. (I’m aware, of course, that the real price of petrol for most people in Nigeria is actually way higher than the official 97 naira per liter).

Yet, I read recently that the Jonathan administration is determined to spike the price of petrol to 141 naira again beginning April this year. Jonathan and his people haven’t given up. And Nigerians would probably sit by in silence—and prayers— and watch their incremental annihilation. It’s so tempting to give up on Nigeria! But I won’t. It’s the only country I have.

The point of calling attention to the fact of Obama’s reelection chances being undermined by the increase in petrol prices in America is to let Nigerians know that the rich also cry when they encounter pain in the pump.

Related Articles:
Why Obama May Yet Get a Second Term
Will Obama Get a Second Term?

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