As gas prices surpass or come closer to $4 per gallon around the country, there’s been plenty of griping that something must be done. To some degree, many Americans are already taking action themselves: Note the sharp rise in sales of small, fuel-efficient cars in February, when gas prices were increasing by at least 1¢ daily. But according to a new poll, gas prices have a long way to go before the majority of people make significant changes to how they live, and how they spend.
How high would gas prices have to be for you and your family to feel forced to make significant changes to your lifestyle? That’s the question posed by a new Gallup poll.
Participants in the survey were given the following gas price categories to select from: Under $4; $4 – $4.99, $5 – $5.99, $6 – $6.99, $7 – $9.99, and $10 and up. According to the pollsters, the tipping point—the price at which the average American would change how he lives and/or cut back in spending—is around $5.30 to $5.35. The results, Gallup says, suggest “there is room for a considerably greater increase in gas prices before Americans say prices will begin to have widespread, serious consequences on their spending and lifestyle patterns.”
However, the results also indicate that a sizeable chunk of the population would make changes (and perhaps already are doing so) well before gas hits the $5 mark. In the poll, 17% of the respondents said that they would feel forced to cut back in spending in other areas before gas hits $4 per gallon, and another 28% said they would do so with gas in the $4 to $4.99 range. In total, then, in theory 45% of the population would make changes before gas topped $5 a gallon.
In a somewhat similar Gallup poll from last spring, conducted while gas prices were spiking—but still not anywhere near $5 per gallon—53% of Americans said that they had already made “major changes” to their lifestyles, including driving less, taking less or shorter vacations, carpooling, switching to a more fuel-efficient car, or cutting back on other spending.
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The second part of this year’s poll asked what, if anything, President Obama and Congress should do about gas prices. A whopping 85% endorsed the idea that the government should “take immediate actions to try to control the rising price of gas.” At the same time, when asked if the president and Congress actually could control the price of gasoline, 31% of respondents answered that the “price is largely beyond their control.”
Interestingly, Republicans—the party that often argues government should do less, not more—are more likely to want the government to take action, and more likely to think that government action can control gas prices. While 81% of Democrats (or those leaning Democrat) say that the president and Congress should take immediate action to control the rising price of gas, 90% of Republicans support this idea. Republicans also outnumber Democrats in terms of assuming the government can do something to control gas prices: 74% vs. 62%.
Then again, in light of gas taxes, subsidies, trade agreements, and assorted other policies, it’s arguable that the government has already been doing something to control, or at least influence, the price of gasoline for quite some time.