Key To Bush's Approval Rating? Gas

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When it comes to President Bush's approval rating — the number that measures his political health — one factor seems more powerful than any Oval Office address or legislative initiative.

It's the price of a gallon of gas.

Statisticians who have compared changes in gas prices and Bush's ratings through his presidency have found a steady relationship: As gas prices rise, his ratings fall. As gas prices fall, his ratings rise.

For some Americans, analysts speculate, gas prices provide a shorthand reading of the general state of the economy. Even though prices at the pump are largely outside the president's control, he gets credit when they fall — and blame when they rise.

"Gas prices are a price everybody knows because it hangs on the street in big letters," says Stuart Thiel, an economist at DePaul University in Chicago who has been tracking the trend for several years.

A statistical analysis by Doug Henwood, editor of the liberal newsletter Left Business Observer, found that an "uncanny" 78% of the movement in Bush's ratings could be correlated with changes in gas prices. Based on trends in crude oil prices, Henwood predicted last Thursday that it "wouldn't be surprising to see his approval numbers rise into the mid-40s."

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