Economy

Gas Prices Having A Ripple Effect in Americans’ Lives

Americans report that their personal financial lives are being affected

PRINCETON, NJ -- Most Americans are able to list specific ways in which the high price of gasoline has affected them personally and many say that the rising cost of gas has had a ripple effect on their personal and financial lives outside of things directly related to driving or travel:

The answers given in response to the question "What are the most important ways that the high price of gasoline has affected you personally?", asked in a recent June 9-12 Gallup Poll, are diverse and suggest that there is no one single effect of rising gas prices that dominates the thinking of Americans when they are asked to enumerate its impact. Instead, it appears that the consequences of gas prices can be classified into three main categories:

1. The direct impact on Americans' normal driving and travel plans and patterns.

2. The impact on Americans' financial lives more generally, outside of issues relating directly to gas or travel, including the perceived impact of the rising price of gas on inflation and the rising price of food.

3. A "no impact" category, reflecting responses of those who say they haven't been affected or are unable to mention a specific way in which gas prices have affected them.

The responses included in the first of these categories are to be expected, but the significant number of Americans who talk about the ways in which the high price of gas is beginning to affect their lives outside of solely cutting back on driving underscores the impact of high gas prices in many aspects of American society today.

Direct Impact

A number of Americans give responses to the question about the impact of gas prices that reflect a direct impact on driving and travel. These include, in particular, the 15% who respond by saying that they cannot afford the cost of driving or commuting as a result of the price of gasoline, the 11% who say they are limiting or cutting back on their travel or vacations and 10% who are driving less as the price of gas goes up.

Indirect Effects

Perhaps more starkly, a number of Americans indicate that the high price of gasoline has affected them in ways that stretch beyond just driving and direct, personal gas consumption. In response to the question about the impact of high gas prices, 11% of Americans say that the high price of gas has affected their overall standard of living up to the point where they have little or no disposable income or their budgets are being wrecked, 9% say they are "hurting financially," and others say they are having to cut back on spending on other things, they have less money to save, and that they are now aware that they are paying more for other products and services, including food.

Of particular interest is the finding that 7% of Americans hold the rising price of gas responsible for inflation in general, and another 7% say that the price of gas is increasing the cost of the food they eat.

No Impact

Six percent of Americans say that the increase in the price of gasoline has not affected them personally and another 8% did not give an answer.

Implications

All in all, it's clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans are able to give an answer when asked about the impact of the gas on their personal lives, and the vast majority of these answers reflect some manner of negative consequence. While a number of Americans are most likely to mention that the rising price of gas has forced them to modify their driving patterns in some fashion, many talk about the injurious impact of gas prices on their general financial situation and/or the way that the rising price of gas has caused the price of non-gas goods and services to increase.

Of course, these open-ended responses do not give an indication of the severity of the impact of gas prices. Cutting back on spending may mean one thing to a millionaire and another thing entirely to a family making only $30,000 a year. Still, the harsh nature of many of the types of responses given, including response categories with labels like: "cannot afford the cost of driving," "have little or no disposable income," "hurting financially," "don't visit family as often," suggest the public is enduring fairly severe consequences of the unprecedented rapid increase in the price of gas.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 822 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 9-12, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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