Whether you’ve seen them yourself, or you know someone who’s made a point to highlight them, gas prices are steadily increasing. But who is to blame for that?
If you follow a few right-leaning Facebook pages, you might have an answer in mind: President Joe Biden.
Several social media posts have posted memes that suggest increases in gas prices are the new president’s fault — blaming things like his closing of the Keystone Pipeline, for instance, for negatively impacting the price of oil, and in turn, resulting in higher costs at the pump.
Is there any truth to these ideas?
Claims that Biden’s to blame for higher fuel costs
Social media posts highlighting these higher gas prices aren’t shy about who they think bears the blame, particularly those on the right side of the political fence. These posts come in different shapes and forms, but generally point their fingers toward Biden.
This post, for example, lamented former President Donald Trump’s departure from the White House, calling it a “sad day in America.” While doing so, the poster in question tried to come off as fair-minded: “I am making this post so it will show back up as a future memory on my timeline,” they wrote, taking inventory of a number of different economic indicators in the U.S. that are worth reexamining in the future.
“Gas is currently $1.95 per gallon,” the author wrote for one of those indicators.
That price is wrong, actually, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
A second post worth noting takes a look at gas prices on the day of the 2020 presidential election, then compares them to gas prices on the day before Biden took office — noting a $0.52 increase between that time.
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“Hello to huge gas prices this summer again,” the post’s author wrote. “I guess the low gas prices for the last four years were just a total bummer for all those Biden voters?”
Again, that post is misleading, but for a different reason.
So what’s really happening? Let’s take a closer look…
Prices cited in social media posts are exaggerations, lack context
The price of gasoline is indeed increasing. But before we get to the reason why, we should examine the posts above and take note of how they are misleading.
The first post, for example, has the cost of gasoline completely wrong. This is perhaps done on purpose: if someone reading the post today saw that the price of gas was under $2 when Biden was inaugurated, they’ll have an inflated sense of how much it’s increased compared to what the real changes in pricing were.
Gas was not $1.95 on Biden’s inauguration day, however — it was $2.37, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), which keeps track of the national average of gas prices on a weekly basis.
Similar posts like this have appeared elsewhere online, with different prices listed at the start of inauguration day, but they all seem to have the same theme: having a significantly lower price listed than what the national average was on January 20, 2021.
So what about that second post? It’s actually accurate — it doesn’t depict a false image at all — but it still lacks some important context.
The image appears to be a picture of a gas station whose chain of stores is popular in the northwestern corner of South Carolina, near Charleston. Indeed, the price of gas on Election Day 2020 does appear to match figures from that area. Gas prices there were listed at $2.15 per gallon on inauguration day, too, which is exactly spot on to what the image shows.
So why is this misleading? If the two images depict an accurate change in prices, isn’t it accurate?
For starters, it’s looking at a singular part of the country and assuming the same rate of change is true for the rest of America. It’s not — while gas prices did increase by half a dollar in that area, for the rest of the U.S., on average, gas only went up by about a quarter, according to the EIA.
In other words, the image takes a look at an extreme situation that did actually happen, and wants you to assume that’s the case everywhere else. It’d be like saying a temperature drop in Wisconsin is the same as a temperature drop in Florida. Temperature drops are not all equal throughout the U.S., and neither are drops in gas prices.
But gas prices are rising…right?
Gas prices are indeed going up — they have increased since the time Biden was elected, and have even gone up since the time he was inaugurated. But the reason why has nothing to do with Biden or any of the policies he has signed into law since becoming president. Rather, this is a correction of a drop in gas prices that happened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just like with any other product that exists, gasoline prices react to supply and demand. When demand for a product goes down but supply remains constant, that tends to lower prices overall.
When the pandemic hit — and when the urge to travel internationally, across the country, or even within one’s own community went down drastically — people used less fuel on a weekly basis, resulting in huge price drops at the pump.
Indeed, from February 10, 2020, to April 27, 2020, gas prices across the country dropped by $0.65. After that time, they started to climb back up again, but in a slow, gradual way.
$0.65 may not sound like a lot, but it resulted in a national average price of around $1.77 per gallon at the time. Prices at the pump, while continuing to go up after April, did not reach their former price levels until — you guessed it — just this month.
Don’t blame Biden — or any president, for that matter
Experts agree that presidents, for the most part, have little impact on the cost of gas. Motorists can expect prices to continue going up, too.
“The market is going up due to COVID,” Gas Buddy analyst Patrick De Haan recently said. “Oil’s plummet last year and the corresponding crash in demand that’s now recovering is the major factor.”
Price increases are not due to “regulations,” De Haan added. “There are only supply concerns now because COVID decimated oil demand last year and that demand is coming back now.”
The cost of crude oil, too, is playing a factor.
“Consumers can expect to continue paying more to fill up this month, potentially up to 10 cents more a gallon, depending on how high crude goes,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Morgan Dean said this month.
Crude oil is still recovering from the pandemic. In January 2020, a barrel of oil cost around $58 per unit. This year in January, it was just over $52 a barrel…which means, if the prices continue to correct themselves, and demand keeps going up, we can expect to see prices go up, too, perhaps even more than where they were at pre-COVID — and there’s not much Biden can do about it.
Joe Biden isn’t responsible for higher gas prices. What’s really happening is that prices are correcting themselves from what they were before the pandemic hit.
It’s also wrong to assume, as some of these social media memes have done, that prices dropped substantially under former President Donald Trump. In fact, prices were increasing under his watch, until the time the pandemic hit.
But blaming Trump or Biden for high prices at the gas pump is wrong because presidents have very little they can do to lower the costs in the first place. These posts and memes do not provide an accurate picture of what’s really going on.