Which President Oversaw The Highest Gasoline Prices?

Last week I filled up with gasoline, and the price was over $3.00 a gallon. It’s been a long time since I paid that much for gasoline. In fact, I checked the data at the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to see the last time weekly gasoline prices were above $3.00/gal. It was in May 2018, during President Trump’s second year in office.

In the previous two articles, I addressed some beliefs relating to presidents and gasoline prices. One of the strongest current beliefs is that President Trump came into office and took decisive actions that drove down gasoline prices. President Biden, the belief goes, has now taken actions that have driven up gasoline prices.

This topic was covered in the previous articles (here and here), but today I want to address the data. Where were gasoline prices during the presidencies of the last three men to hold office? I will also provide commentary on major factors that influenced those prices.

The following graphic shows the average annual gasoline price during each year of the last three presidential terms. The numbers come from the EIA, and they represent the average retail price of all grades of gasoline. You can see the raw data here. I charted each year in 52-week increments starting with each president’s inauguration.

(Click on image to enlarge)

You can interpret this data in many different ways, but let’s first discuss the overall evolution of gasoline prices over this period. Then I will address the causes.

The Evolution of Gasoline Prices

During the first two years of his first term, President Bush oversaw low and relatively stable gasoline prices. But prices were higher in his third year in office, and they continued to rise through his eighth year in office. Between his first and seventh year, the average annual price of gasoline doubled. No other president in modern history has overseen such a huge percentage rise in the price of gasoline.

Something dramatic changed during President Obama’s first year in office. The price of gasoline plunged. If you are a fan of President Obama, you might give him credit for this drop in prices. But, as I will explain later, it’s not that simple.

Like Bush, Obama initially experienced rising gasoline prices. Those prices reached a peak at the highest annual average of any president, before falling back down to the lowest level since Bush’s first term. The reasons for this are clearly understood, as I will explain below.

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