A gallon of gasoline is the most expensive it has been in seven years, but the once-potent economic indicator doesn’t seem to be putting pressure on President Joe Biden’s energy policies—in part because gas prices hit Democrats and Republicans differently.

Going into the Independence Day weekend, when road trips are expected to near a record, the nationwide average was $3.12 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association. That’s 44% higher than a year ago, when oil prices were in a free fall because of a glut of supply and pandemic-constrained demand.

That kind of increase would have been cause for alarm at the White House in recent decades, when voters often took out their frustrations over energy costs on the sitting president. A 2016 study of presidential approval ratings from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush found that every 10-cent rise in gas prices reduced presidential approval by 0.6 percentage points, after controlling for other factors.

Yet while Biden’s approval rating has slipped since Memorial Day, with the RealClearPolitics average reaching the lowest level of his presidency Friday, at 51.7% approving and 44.5% disapproving, that is higher than President Donald Trump enjoyed at any point in his time in office.

The changing politics of gas prices are giving Biden more leeway to pursue a clean-energy agenda favored by progressive Democrats, with the costs borne disproportionately by Republicans.

During his tenure, the president has canceled a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian crude to U.S. refineries and suspended drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also has moved to prohibit new oil and gas projects on federal land and urged the phasing out of fossil fuels entirely.

None of those policies have an immediate effect on gas prices which are more broadly influenced by fluctuations in the global oil market, including an ongoing diplomatic standoff within OPEC+ allies that could send prices up.

In fact, some of Biden’s policies, like pushing for electric transportation, may actually reduce demand and lower prices over time. But Republicans argue his environmental agenda will drive up the cost of energy overall.

“As we move into this weekend, after just six months of the Biden administration, we have the highest gas prices in seven years, as many wanted to hit the road,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday. “I think the American people want more. They want inflation under control and they want a gas price they can afford as well.”

Representative Randy Feenstra, a Republican from western Iowa, took to the floor of the House this week to declare Biden’s policies an “attack of rural America and rural Iowa.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the president was committed to making sure gasoline remains affordable for Americans amid rising oil prices. She said that is why he is opposed to increased taxes on fuel or mileage “because he felt that would fall on the backs of Americans who are returning to their workplaces who are driving their kids to school.”

The pain of higher gas prices is often experienced differently by Democrats and Republicans because of geography, use patterns and even perception.

Republicans worry more about steeper prices than Democrats, expecting a 33-cent hike per gallon over the next year, according to the most recent University of Michigan survey of consumers. That’s five times more than the increase expected by Democrats.

Gas Expectations
Economic expectations are increasingly driven by partisanship as the nation becomes more polarized. They also reflect a more pessimistic view of an administration run by the opposing party. Republicans are more optimistic about an economy during Republican administration and vice-versa, said the Michigan survey director, Richard Curtin.

A Fox News poll last month of registered voters found 68% said rising gas prices were a hardship for their families—although only 29% said it was a serious hardship. Republican women and parents were most likely to say it was a hardship.

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