Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and congressional elections. There are some favorable signs for Democrats in the 2022 midterms -- but energy and inflation are not currently among them.
A quick note here to praise FRED, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis's online data tool. (FRED stands for “Federal Reserve Economic Data.”) If you've never played around with it, you are excused to do so now. Just scads of data and simple tools for combining and comparing information. An essential tool.
At last we get to the point. First, the “how to read” bit. Here, we also have two vertical axes. The color-coding indicates which curve fits which axis: orange at left from 40 to 50 percent and purple at right from $3 to $3.50. The curves themselves are labeled directly, avoiding some of the nerdy inscrutability of Bloomberg's.
As the graph shows, there's been a rough inverse correlation in recent months between gas prices and Biden's approval rating. In other words, as one goes up, the other goes down and vice versa. There's a way to measure the correlation of two data trends called the “correlation coefficient.” The closer the value is to 1, the stronger the two data series are directly correlated; the closer it is to -1, the stronger the inverse correlation.
The coefficient for the two lines above is -0.825.
This is where you jump up and down and say, “Hey, buffoon, correlation is not causation.” And I say, “Yeah, I know, and that's not nice and please don't unsubscribe.” There's a whole website showing two trends that appear to correlate even though they obviously have no actual real-world connection. (Like there's a strong correlation between the rate of divorce in Maine and national margarine consumption but those things seem discrete.)
If we expand the window outward here, you see that the correlation seems to break down: gas prices were rising for months as Biden's approval stayed steady.
Before September, the correlation was a more modest -0.61.
There is a connection between gas prices and presidential approval, I think it's safe to say. CNN's poll found a big drop in how people viewed Biden's handling of the economy, something that's linked to concern about inflation — which is felt perhaps most immediately for many Americans in the cost of a gallon of gas.