Was Gas Cheaper Under Obama or Bush?

gasCourtesy of Occupy Democrats, with over 60,000 likes and 48,000 shares.  Whatever one thinks of these two presidents (the MP dislikes both), this is pure propaganda.  It takes a snapshot of gas at an inexpensive station during the lowest prices of Obama’s tenure, and compares it with an expensive station at the highest prices of Bush’s tenure.  It leaves the impression of cheaper gas under Obama than Bush, because of “ties to the oil industry”, but is this true?  To find out, we need to determine the average price of gas under each president.

Unfortunately, it was exceedingly difficult to find a good source for this data, so the MP had to compile it independently, the old fashioned way.  If you doubt the results, feel free to follow the methodology yourself.

The Methodology

The data was taken from the government’s own analysis of gasoline prices.  This chart compiles the national average of regular gasoline prices every week.  Using the last week of January 2001 until the last week of January in 2009 for Bush, and the last week in January 2009-present (Nov 2, 2015) for Obama, we can add up all the prices in an Excel spreadsheet and average the totals.

Here are the results: (Note: these were from the time the meme was published.  For the updated totals for the complete Obama presidency, see further below)

Bush: $2.14

Obama: $3.12

Here’s a graphical chart of historical gas prices to get a different perspective.

historical gas price chart


But what about inflation? (the smart skeptic asks!)

Good question.  We can use this inflation calculator to compare the “real” cost of gas under each president.

Even at the most unfavorable calculation for the Bush era, using 2001 as the starting year, the inflation adjusted average gas price in the Bush era was $2.88 in 2015 dollars.  Using a more realistic average of 2005 as the median year, the average price would be $2.61.  Both are still far below the Obama average of $3.12

(Update: This analysis was accurate for when this meme was published in Nov. 2015.  With Obama’s term now over, the average is $2.98/gal for his entire presidency.  Still more than Bush’s $2.12)

More Context

It’s true that gas prices did spike higher under Bush than under Obama, as it briefly reached $4.11 (not the $5+ as shown in the meme) in July of 2008, compared with a high of $3.97 for Obama in May 2011.  However, this spike only lasted for a couple months before plunging back below $2/gal before the end of the year as the 2008 recession hit.  Under Obama, there was a period of over 3 years where gas stayed above $3/gal, something not even approached under Bush, who never had more than 1 year of sustained $3/gal gas.  It’s true that the current gas price is relatively low.  Whether or not it continues no one knows, but even if it stays low the next year, Obama will have a higher average than Bush.

Does the President Affect Oil Prices?

Yes and no, but mostly no.  Presidents are generally given far too much criticism when prices rise, and too much credit when they fall.  The busting of this meme in no way condones the Bush presidency, if anything it points out how even disastrous policies have surprisingly little effect on oil prices in the US compared to other factors.

Oil is a commodity traded on the global market, and while there can be manipulation by cartels, the price of gas is generally set by supply and demand (and government taxes on gas!).  Bush having friends in the oil business doesn’t have much of an effect on the global supply and demand for oil, just as Obama’s supposed shunning of oil companies doesn’t either.  Commodities, like oil, are always volatile and respond to an almost infinite number of effects on the supply and demand.  Even major events and policy blunders like wars and “tension in the Middle East” aren’t major drivers, as long as the oil market is allowed to trade freely.  For example, if we look after 9/11 and during the start of the Iraq War, prices were lower than now.  While there’s always “tension” in that region, there was probably less a couple years ago when gas prices were high, than now with Syria, Iraq and Libya in chaos.

This isn’t to say different policies can’t have some effect on prices, but generally the status of the global economy and the relative value of the dollar have the most impact on prices, something the president has little control over.  In the last couple of years, many commodities have plunged relative to the dollar; from gold, to copper, to oil, not because of politician’s sudden lack of ties to “big gold”, but for market reasons.


You’ll need to do some math to figure it out, but Norwegian gas prices are quite high!

If we look at the countries which perennially have the highest gas prices, places like Norway and Denmark top the list.  These are the countries the Occupy Democrats always like to tout as wonderful, yet often have gas prices 3 times greater than the US (currently about $7.70/gal in Norway!).  Ironically, the reason for these high prices are due to those in power.  However, it’s not because of “ties to the oil industry”, but taxes and energy policy.  The very tax and energy policies the perpetrator of this meme promotes.

17 Comments on "Was Gas Cheaper Under Obama or Bush?"

  1. > Does the President Effect Oil Prices?

    I think you mean “Affect”.

  2. Sam Drucker | January 21, 2016 at 8:21 pm |

    Yes. I remember.47 gas when Bush was in office… Wait. No I don’t.

  3. Who did this survey? You can make numbers say what ever you want, but I remember when I was spending over 100.00 per week to go to work. I saw gas here for 1.39 per gal, I don’t remember the last time we have had this.

    • This post was critiquing an older meme from last fall, and the numbers are accurate for the time period, but it will be updated soon to see how things have changed the last few months. However, according to the EPA, the national average for gas is about $1.83. The last time that happened was briefly in 2008-9, and most of the period from 2001-2004. It was only really from 2006-2008 that gas spiked under Bush.

      • blahblahblah | February 28, 2016 at 9:53 am |

        See, you’re giving these years and it’s shocking that you still don’t see the fallacy here. Averaging over the president’s entire term doesn’t make sense. The president doesn’t enter office and then have a magical immediate effect on the economy. It takes years. Once Obama’s term is done, let’s see what the average of the second two terms of each president look like.

  4. Doyle Watters | February 20, 2016 at 8:14 pm |

    Politicians don’t tell us about who you are and or what you have done! Show us what you can do and don’t blame your predecessor for is you who is responsible for the office you hold. dw

  5. Hey, I call “gorilla in the room”! If Obama crashes the economy really bad in this last few months, he could drive the price of oil down even below Bush’s economic crash. Isn’t that why the price of oil was low when Obama took over? Because the demand dropped, because of a near Great Depression level economy? Is somebody suggesting is a great policy? Lower the price of gas by destroying the economy?
    Y’all want to be really smart? Find a way to track the price of gas as a compared to a growing economy. There is a difference between cutting demand and increasing supply you know.

  6. I don't care | May 28, 2016 at 10:23 am |

    I really don’t understand how you can hokd Obama responsible for the gas prices he started with. Look at them now. The thing is Bush like you said had “friends” in the oil business. He cared for and did business with his friends and also had another war just like his dad in the middle east. He was money hungry born into a rich texas oil family.

    • Didn’t say Obama was responsible for oil prices, in fact the opposite

      • Lol people don’t read, they skim through stuff and assume they know better. I found this breakdown because I was researching a meme that a friend has posted via Facebook and the meme was clearly bogus so now I’m dissecting it to show him how wrong, uneducated and gullible he is. I’ve never heard of your website but it seems very informative and thoroughly researched, great work- I’m sure you aren’t, but don’t listen to them and keep the facts coming! The first part of the meme was the bogus unemployment statistics, the gas prices are number 2, now on to the uninsured rate. Smh lol wish me luck

  7. Gas was way over $5 a gallon all over the state of California under the Bush presidency I just paid $2.36 for super yesterday in California you claim of gas not being over 5 is incorrect as in California some stations hit the 6 dollar mark. Please correct thanks

    • The average prices were using the EPA’s numbers on average unleaded gas in the US. They might have been over $5 in CA at some stations, but the national average was never that high.

  8. Well, All I know is what I have experienced and I now can afford to buy gas, Under Obama. I had to trade in my truck in 2007 because of gas prices back then, Under Bush. I remember how high they got, how high they remained until Bush left office, then they started to fall.

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