Will gas prices allow Republicans to control the US House?

If control of the House of Representatives passes to Republicans this fall, economist Jim Doti thinks he has found the engine of political change: the gas pump.

The veteran economic forecaster from Chapman University was trying to see what historical economic, demographic or voting pattern factors might provide numerical clues for November’s midterm elections in which control of the House is at stake.

Doti’s formula suggests Republicans will take control of the House by flipping 53 of the 435 legislature seats to the GOP side of the political aisle in November. The turnaround isn’t terribly surprising given that the party controlling the White House has lost an average of 27 midterm seats since World War II. And over the Fourth of July weekend, forecasters at gave the GOP an 87% chance of winning the house in the first fall projection for 2022.

Political histories are not infallible predictions of future election results. But Doti was surprised to discover the key vote changer that is bad news for President Joe Biden and his Democrats: record high gasoline prices.

“First of all, let me say that it was a big surprise for me,” says Doti.

Price points

Pump pain was not on Doti’s mind when he began the research with fellow Chapman professor Fadel Lawandy. He was betting big swings in the vote would follow inflation, which in 2022 hits 40-year highs.

But when the professors looked at voting patterns against traditional measures of the cost of living, such as the Consumer Price Index, Doti said: “I couldn’t find anything, even when you look at some of our periods of high inflation.”

Gasoline prices had therefore entered his formula and, to the surprise of the professors, fuel inflation was a significant political driver. The out-of-power party won more seats midterm in the House when gasoline was more expensive.

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Also noteworthy are the only two times the party in the White House has strengthened its political base in the House midterm – Bill Clinton’s second term (1998) and George W. Bush’s first term (2002). .

Gasoline prices fell during these two outlier periods.

So why is gasoline — a relatively modest expense for many Americans — such a political flashpoint? This is the simplicity of economic measurement.

“Every week, people fill the tank. They see these high prices,” says Doti. “It’s not like reading the CPI. Or read the Wall Street Journal. It affects their wallet, and they get it. They are restless.

Bad start

Doti’s research shows that Democrats start the midterm political season in a weak position.

The model revealed the modest House advantage of Democrats — it’s currently only a 10-seat advantage — translates to 10 seats lost in November.

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Post expires at 7:26pm on Friday July 15th, 2022