Poll: Pump prices put pinch on drivers

Published May 26, 2007

WASHINGTON - Nearly half the country thinks near-record gasoline prices will cause serious hardship, prompting ever more people to consider trading their gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars, an AP-Ipsos poll says.

Yet there are signs that more people also are clinging to their driving and vacation habits while grudgingly accepting the higher price tag. The government said this week that prices for a gallon of regular gasoline had hit a nationwide average of $3.22, nearly 50 percent higher than in January and pennies shy of the all-time mark.

Forty-six percent said they expect skyrocketing gasoline prices to cause them severe financial problems, said the poll, released at the Memorial Day weekend's unofficial start of the summer driving season. That measure of public pocketbook pain is up slightly from last year and appreciably above the 30 percent figure of June 2004, when AP-Ipsos first asked the question.

Despite the cost, slightly fewer people than last year said they are reducing their driving, trimming other expenses or curtailing vacation plans due to higher energy costs. Asked to name a fair price for a gallon of gasoline, for the first time most volunteered $2 and up, and not less than $2.

"It's worrisome, but I don't feel I have much control over it, " said Ann Meyer, 39, a homemaker in Phoenix. "I guess I'm getting used to it."

Clearly, rising prices are having a broad effect on people's habits. The 47 percent who said they are considering buying a more fuel efficient car is up from 39 percent a year ago.

The government's Energy Information Administration said Monday's average national price for regular gasoline of $3.22 a gallon came in just below the March 1981 all-time monthly high of $3.29, adjusted for inflation. It was actually selling for $1.42 at the time.

Gasoline consumption grew last week by 1.2 percent over the same period a year ago, as measured by four-week periods the agency calculates.

Overall, when asked whether rising gasoline prices would cause financial hardship for them or their family over the next half year, seven in 10 said yes, about the same as last year. The number who foresaw a "serious hardship" was up from 43 percent to 46 percent.

Those changing vacation plans dropped from 49 percent in 2006 to 42 percent this year, while the number paring other expenses fell from 66 percent last year to 60 percent now.

The poll involved telephone interviews with 1, 000 randomly chosen adults May 15-17.

Stay home?

About 38-million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more this weekend, a 1.7 percent increase from last year, according to AAA. About 83 percent of them will drive.

What does it cost?

Some people are considering curtailing vacation driving as gasoline prices soar past $3 a gallon, but that may yield relatively little savings. Take someone driving 1, 000 miles with a car that gets 20 miles per gallon.

An increase of $1 over last summer's average price of nearly $3 a gallon would cost an extra $50. For a vehicle getting 15 miles per gallon, the increase would be $66.67. For a car getting 30 miles per gallon, it would be $33.33.

Poll results

What would you say is a fair price for a gallon of gasoline?

2007 2006

Less than $2 40 percent 49

$2 to less than $3 49 percent 40

$3 to less than $4 5 percent 6

$4 to less than $5 <1 percent 1

$5 to less than $6 1 percent 1

$6 or more <1 percent 1

Not sure 6 percent 4

Responses total more than 100 percent due to rounding