Ask Americans their outlook on the country — its future, its economy, its president — and their mood has risen and fallen in surveys this year in striking sync with the price of gas. Gas prices go up, and fear that the country is on the wrong track often does, too. Gas prices go down, and so does unhappiness with the president.
It’s of course not the case that fuel prices alone dictate the optimism (or surliness) of the nation. But these patterns suggest that gas, distinct from other things we buy, wields real power over how Americans think about their personal circumstances, the wider economy and even the state of the nation. Yes, this year has been marked by economic uncertainty, Supreme Court shock waves, Jan. 6 revelations and enduring pandemic divides. But lurking in the background of it all has been the whipsawing price of gas.