Texas Republicans with bumper stickers on their pickup trucks blaming President Obama for soaring gas prices surprisingly have one thing in common with Bay Area drivers who bought a Prius last decade to cope with sky-high fuel prices they pinned on George W. Bush.
They paid the exact same for gas under both presidents.
As the election nears and fuel costs continue to rise, Republicans say Mitt Romney could ease our pain at the pump if he is elected, using the same strategy as Democrats who blamed Bush for gas prices four years ago.
But despite having polar opposite energy plans, Obama and Bush experienced virtually the same gas price problem, suggesting just how little control the most powerful man in the world has over this hot-button issue.
Consider that the average price of a regular gallon of gas at U.S. pumps was $1.85 when Bush was sworn in for his second term in January 2005 and $1.84 when Obama took office in January 2009 on the promise of change, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Adjusting for inflation, prices rose to $2.52 (Bush) and $2.53 (Obama) seven months into their terms, $2.76 and $2.71, respectively, nearly two years in and $3.27 each three years in. This month, gas is $3.85, more than a dime cheaper than at this point during Bush's second term when adjusted for inflation.
The average, through 45 months in office? Obama: $3.04; Bush's second term: $2.98.
"The global price
During Bush's first term, gas prices climbed about 50 cents, about the same increase as Clinton saw during his eight-year run. Just before Bush left office at the end of 2008, gas prices were cut in half within a couple of months as the economy crashed.
In the Bay Area and California, the trend is the same, just with more at stake since our gas prices are typically about 30 cents higher than the national average. The Bay Area is also a hotbed of support for Obama, however, and local drivers aren't so quick to pin their pain at the pump on the president.
"It always feels like it's the corporations that control (gas prices) and not the president," said Teresa Gibson, 45, of Mountain View. "But I think politicians grab onto that because it's something people relate to. But I think it's unfair."
Yet politicians on both sides repeatedly seize on gas price anxiety to appeal to car-happy Americans, particularly in election seasons.
Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner have noted that gas prices doubled under Obama's watch while Romney has blamed Obama for being "absolutely" responsible for rising gas prices.
"What's frustrating about the Obama's administration's policies are, they've gone to great lengths to make oil and gas more expensive," vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said at Google headquarters in Mountain View this month.
Obama, meanwhile, campaigned in 2008 at a gas station to blame Bush for record gas prices; this year, he poked fun at other politicians for doing the same.
"They head down to the gas station, they make sure a few cameras are following them, and then they start acting like, 'we've got a magic wand, and we will give you cheap
Neither the Romney nor Obama campaigns returned messages requesting comment. But it's not just politicians who blame the other side for rising gas prices -- provided their guy isn't in office.
In 2006, when asked if Bush could reasonably do something to bring down gas prices, 73 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans said he could, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll. When asked the same question of Obama this year, the results reversed: 33 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans said the president had control of gas prices.
"So many Americans wrongly believe that gas prices are tied to a president," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com. "The economy drives gas prices more than any president."
Democrats argue Obama inherited from Bush a devastated economy that spun gas prices into a free fall, leaving oil costs with nowhere to go but up as he took over. Republicans counter that 2012 has been the costliest year ever on average for gas, even though prices shot higher for a few months in 2008. U.S. inflation in August grew 0.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday -- the largest increase in more than three years, and about 80 percent of it was due to rising gas prices.
Aside from the oil and energy crises of the 1970s that led to huge gas price increases under both Republicans and Democrats, gas prices have only recently begun to swing rapidly.
Obama doubled the MPG requirements for new cars for the coming decades as his signature energy policy -- going much farther than Bush -- while investing tens of billions of dollars into solar, wind and other renewable energy. Bush, on the other hand, was a much stronger supporter for drilling for oil in new areas.
Analysts say anything from conflicts in the Middle East to emergencies like the recent refinery fire in Richmond can spike oil costs, though employment totals are the largest factor driving demand and thus prices.
Gas prices nearly doubled in two years during the dot-com boom -- under Democrat Bill Clinton and at the beginning of Bush's first term -- and then fell when the bubble burst. They began rising again as the economy bounced back in 2003 and continued until the recession hit in 2008.
"The bottom line is, there are these huge global forces that are the primary driver of the price of gasoline," said Bledsoe, "and they are forces that the president under normal circumstances has very little control over."
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/rosenberg17.