Gas prices are on the rise, but red America could pay more

WASHINGTON – With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, it’s not uncommon for consumers to talk (and complain) about gasoline prices. It’s as much of a holiday tradition as the Hallmark movies. But this year the story is a little different. The past 12 months have seen gasoline prices soar as life has reverted to something closer to a pre-COVID standard and travel has returned.

And if you look closely at the data, you can see that Democrats and Republicans may feel the pain of this year’s pump differently – a real and unintended impact of the self-sorting that has come to define American politics. modern.

While annual gas price complaints are expected, there is some truth behind the criticisms this year. The prices are noticeably higher and not only compared to last year.

In November, the price of an average gallon of gasoline ($ 3.38) was the highest since 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration.

To be clear, this isn’t the highest price ever for a gallon of gasoline. In fact, taking inflation into account, it’s not even close. But, as is so often the case with the economy, it is a perception that matters to voters and nowadays many voters perceive the prices as sky-high. This is especially true compared to last year, when prices were artificially low due to reduced travel linked to the first year of the pandemic.

These perceptions vary greatly depending on your policy and where you live.

As we have often noted in the data upload, the GOP has a massive rural footprint. This is why county maps of election results generally seem to show a Republican advantage. Large numbers of self-identified Republicans live in sparsely populated rural areas. And when you live in the countryside, an increase in gasoline prices can be very painful.

You can measure challenges in two ways: the amount of driving rural people have to do and the types of vehicles they tend to own.

Vehicle miles (or VMT) per capita shows the first half of the equation. Consider the top ten states for VMT per capita in 2018, according to an analysis by Sivak Applied Research, a transportation research firm.

Of the top 10 states for VMT per capita, eight voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 – Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana and Tennessee. The two exceptions are New Mexico, which is a rare, strongly rural state that tends to vote Democratic, and Georgia, which President Joe Biden won by only a hair’s breadth.

Georgia may look like a less rural outlier in the bunch, but it makes the list in part because the Atlanta metro area is a sprawling giant with 29 counties. Getting around this area can take a lot of time and miles, as most people in the Metro Atlanta area will tell you.

At the other end of the driving spectrum, the reverse is true. Of the 10 states with the lowest VMT per capita, only one voted for Trump in 2020: Alaska. Alaska is obviously very rural, but it doesn’t have a lot of roads either.

And beyond the higher amounts of driving in Republican states, there’s the fuel-efficient vehicle of choice. Americans may love pickup trucks, but they don’t all love them equally. There is a strong red tint in states where pickup trucks make up the largest percentage of new vehicle sales, according to Experian data.

The top 10 states where pickup trucks account for the largest percentage of new vehicle sales all voted Donald Trump in 2020 and with large margins – North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, Alaska, Iowa, Missouri , Arkansas and West Virginia. The state on this list with the closest presidential race is Iowa where Trump won by more than 8 points.

In many cases, it’s about more than personal style, it’s about lifestyle. These are rural states and in many of them agriculture plays an important, if not dominant, role. Pickup trucks aren’t just a way to look rugged – they’re an important part of life.

More kilometers traveled in vehicles that burn more gasoline? These are real differences. And even though this analysis is at the state level, the rules apply to lower-level geographies. There are rural Republican parts of Democratic-leaning states where residents have to drive further afield to get to the grocery store and there are people who own vans to help with work.

And while none of these differences are overtly political (they only depend on where and how people live), the forces behind them clearly have political impacts.

The geographic divide between Democrats and Republicans is not responsible for the divided nature of the nation. Republicans were predisposed not to like Biden by the time he won the White House, as was the case with Trump and the Democrats five years ago. It is the blue team / red team aspect of politics that has come to define Washington in 2021.

But the geographic differences between where Democrats and Republicans live don’t help. The impact of rising gas prices offers just one example of how Democrats and Republicans really live in different worlds.

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