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Gas prices a drag on Obama's numbers

March 12, 2012: 10:43 AM ET

White House Photo/Pete Souza

Gas prices are up, and the president's poll numbers are down.

Way down.

A full 50% of Americans now strongly disapprove of how President Obama is handling the economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. That's the highest level of his presidency, and a 9-point jump from the previous month. Another 9% of Americans somewhat disapprove, while only 38% say they approve.

It would appear that rising gas prices are at least partly to blame.

Only 26% approve of how Obama is handling gas prices, while almost two-thirds disapprove -- and 52% say their disapproval is strong.  Almost 90% of respondents say they are concerned about rising prices, while 63% say paying more for gas has caused financial hardship. Almost one in two think prices will go up -- and stay there.

Forty-eight percent give Obama's broader energy policy a thumbs down; 38% approve.

It is difficult to attribute the president's dropping numbers on the economy only to rising gas prices, as this is the first time since the Bush administration that the Washington Post has asked this specific question in a poll.

But the gas price spike certainly seems to be a key contributing factor. Other economic indicators consistently point to a continuing, if not especially robust, recovery.

The economy added more than a quarter million jobs in February, and showed similar growth in January. GDP is lagging a bit, but most economists have stopped worrying that the U.S. will fall into a double-dip recession. Filings for new jobless benefits recently hit a nearly four-year low. Just a couple weeks before the poll was conducted, the Dow and S&P were holding near their highest levels since 2008.

And that leaves gas prices, which topped $3.80 per gallon on Monday. The nationwide average was $3.51 a gallon a month ago and $3.77 a week ago. Last year at this time, the average price stood at $3.56 a gallon.

This is not good news for the White House, as the president -- and Congress -- has precious little control over the global oil market. More bad news: Half the country thinks the administration can do something to lower prices at the pump.

With Obama now tied in a hypothetical general election match-up with both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, there is one poll result that offers the Obama campaign a silver lining: Even as they are unhappy with Obama's performance on economic issues, Americans are feeling a little better about the economy's direction.

Forty-nine percent say the economy has begun to recover, up from 36% in November.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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