Economy

Americans Become More Optimistic About Gas Prices

More positive attitudes could affect consumer spending

PRINCETON, NJ -- There's been a wholesale turnaround in Americans' expectations about the direction of gas prices between now and the end of the year. Last month, nearly 9 in 10 Americans said gas prices in their local areas would be even higher by the end of the year; now, with the price of gas at the pump dropping on a weekly basis, that percentage has dropped by more than half.

It's uncommon to see the type of change evident in responses to this type of question in as little as one month. While last month, only 5% of Americans said gas prices would decrease, that number is up to 37% now, and there's been a jump from 6% to 21% in the percentage who say gas prices will stay the same. Importantly, only 16% of Americans now say gas prices will increase by "a lot" by the end of the year, compared to 52% last month.

All in all, a majority of Americans in Gallup's Aug. 7-10 poll optimistically say gas prices will stay the same or decrease by the end of the year, with just 40% hanging on to the belief that they will go higher.

The cause for this turnaround in attitudes is almost certainly the self-evident fact that gas prices have declined significantly in the time between the July and August surveys.

Republicans are a little more positive about gas prices than are Democrats and independents.

On average, Republicans are more likely to say gas prices will decrease than to say they will increase, while independents and Democrats tilt in the opposite direction.

Gallup analysis has shown repeatedly that Republicans are generally more positive about the economy than are independents and Democrats, most likely reflecting attitudinal loyalty to the Republican administration in the White House.

Implications

Gallup Poll Daily tracking of economic attitudes has shown that Americans' views of the U.S. economy have been a little less negative of late.

The percentage of Americans classified as "negative" about the economy -- those who rate current conditions as only fair or poor and think the economy is getting worse or staying the same -- is 73% in Gallup's Aug. 8-10 Daily tracking average, compared to 83% who were negative in the average for July 14-16, a little less than a month ago.

Although there is no direct evidence proving that this decrease in economic negativity is a result of the drop in gas prices, such a causal connection is certainly a reasonable explanation. The current data showing that a majority of Americans project static or lower gas prices by the end of the year presumably suggest the possibility of an even more positive consumer outlook -- which in turn could have a salutary effect on consumer spending.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 7-10, 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 ±3 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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