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Election Season: Where's All the Anger Over Gas Prices?



Rising gas prices are, well, running out of gas.

Prices have been steadily rising during the last two months, threatening $4 a gallon. But as Tropical Storm Isaac looms and the Republican National Convention was set to kick off Tuesday, the issue's largely been pushed to the political sidelines.

A recent poll by Reuters finds that most voters just aren't that concerned about rising gas prices, ranking them last among the top-10 factors that will influence their decision at the polls in November. So where did the anger go?

There are three good explanations, says George Hoffer, a professor at the University of Richmond who specializes in transportation economics.

First, because gas prices have been fluctuating for most of 2012, there isn't a collective expectation. "There has been no normal price this year," he says, "so therefore there is no expected price in consumers' minds."

Republicans haven't made it a campaign issue because prices generally have been decreasing in the last two months. And with a recent uptick, President Obama announced his administration would begin dipping into America's oil reserves to keep prices in check. But that doesn't explain why the GOP hasn't hammered Obama a little harder on gas prices, which have doubled since he took office in 2009.

That could be because people are buying new cars again, Hoffer says. New car sales are up more than 40 percent from four years ago. The average gas mileage of new cars has improved, even for larger vehicles. Since October 2007, the average gas mileage for all new cars and trucks has improved 17 percent, from about 20.1 mpg to 24.1 mpg, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

"As the average vehicle that we drive gets better miles per gallon, people psychologically may feel more insulated," Hoffer says. "Whether it's a truck or a car, the replacement vehicle gets better mileage than the car you get rid off."

Lastly, gas prices in Virginia have remained well below the national average. Gas taxes are still comparatively low to other states. And unlike other states, smog isn't as much of an issue. So most gas stations aren't required to buy special blends of environmentally friendly gasoline, which are more costly and susceptible to shortages sparked by hurricanes in the Gulf.

"Three weeks ago, I was in the Midwest. The Chicago-Detroit area was already paying over $4 a gallon," Hoffer says. "When people talk about $4 a gallon gas, we talk about $3.60 a gallon gas."

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