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In this April 28, 2011 file photo, John Magel pumps gas at a station in Wethersfield, Conn. (Jessica Hill/ASSOCIATED PRESS/Jessica Hill/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
In this April 28, 2011 file photo, John Magel pumps gas at a station in Wethersfield, Conn. (Jessica Hill/ASSOCIATED PRESS/Jessica Hill/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Could rising gas prices hurt President Obama's re-election? Add to ...

Buoyed by the good news that private sector job creation led to nearly a quarter million jobs last month – exceeding Wall Street forecasts – the Obama administration is facing new poll numbers and what many describe as the ‘sleeper’ issue of 2012.

“It’s the gas prices, stupid,” says the Washington Post this morning, with a new poll to illustrate the growing anxiety among Americans perturbed by the recent price spike.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll offers three important findings.

In spite of good news and much chatter about the increasingly positive outlook around the economy, President Barack Obama’s negative rating on the economy has gone up to 59 per cent compared to a month ago.

Secondly, 65 per cent disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of gasoline prices. According to a survey of 2,500 gas stations, the average price per gallon has gone up 12 cents over the last two weeks, and 18 cents for the two weeks previous to that. The current average price of a gallon of gas is $3.81 ($1.00 per litre), which is up 31 cents from a year ago.

The fear is that gas prices will continue to rise in to the summer, with some estimates of the price peaking at $4.50 a gallon.

The new poll also indicates that Mr. Obama is trailing Republican leadership front-runner Mitt Romney, 49 per cent to 47 per cent.

“Unstoppable Take-It-to-the-Bank Ironclad Lock for Reelection Now Trails Romney Again,” tweeted conservative blogger Jim Geraghty of National Review Online.

Just as the Republican leadership race has witnessed poll gyrations – as voters try to settle on a candidate to take on Barack Obama – national polls are a snap-shot and can easily change.

But the narrative just a couple of days ago, of an incumbent president enjoying a slight bump from an improving economic picture, is just a reminder that eight months stand between now and the presidential election in November.

The economic picture can quickly change, a geopolitical crisis on the scale of Israel attacking Iran could turn the election’s focus to foreign policy, and a spike in gasoline prices could cause voters to blame the Obama administration for not doing enough for American consumers.

The Globe’s Washington correspondent Konrad Yakabuski has written about Republican leadership candidate Newt Gingrich and his efforts to raise the fortunes of his flagging campaign by focusing on gasoline prices.

On Monday, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is looking for big gains in Tuesday Alabama and Mississippi primaries, was reminding voters of his pledge to reduce gas prices to $2.50 a gallon.

“Please Retweet #250gas today!” he urged supporters on Twitter.

American energy policy has been a key issue in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Republicans have argued that the Obama administration has hurt American job creation and long-term energy policy by delaying the Keystone XL project pipeline, a 2,700 km oil pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas.

In a report released Monday, U.S. federal agencies state that the country’s dependence on foreign oil imports – a key Obama administration promise – has dropped to 45 per cent from 57 per cent a year ago. Mr. Obama is set to speak to several TV networks on Monday touting the administration’s gains, including new clean energy technologies.

But it is the price at the pump that most consumers will be watching, and complaining about.

In a startling live TV illustration of the rising gasoline prices, a reporter for ABC News witnessed a 10 cent jump in the cost of a gallon of gas during her two-minute TV report.

“Don’t blink at the gasoline station,” host Diane Sawyer told viewers.

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