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Chart misleads on gas prices under Obama and Trump

June 7, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A chart of U.S. gas prices since 2010 shows that prices under former President Barack Obama were higher than prices under the Trump administration, before rising dramatically again when President Joe Biden took office.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The chart mislabels former President Donald Trump’s tenure, suggesting he was in office in 2015 during a period when gas prices dropped. Obama was in office at that time. Trump was not sworn in until 2017.

THE FACTS: With gas prices surging to record highs in 2022, some on social media in recent days are sharing a misleading graph to compare prices at the pump under recent presidents.

The line graph shows the fluctuation of gas prices from 2010 to 2022. In crude handwriting, the chart roughly labels the highest price points from 2010-2015 as “Obama,” then the lowest price points from 2015-2021 with “Trump.” The last section, which starts at 2020 and shows a dramatic spike in 2021, is labeled “Biden.”

“So clear, even a child could understand,” reads the top of the chart. One Facebook post of the chart was shared more than 1,000 times and had over 200,000 views.

The prices in the graph are accurate. The original chart, without the presidential labels, comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But the labels suggesting which president was in office at the time of fluctuations were added later and are misleading. The chart implies that Trump was sitting in the Oval Office when average U.S. fuel prices went as low as $2 a gallon in January 2015 and $1.72 in 2016. In fact, Obama was in office at that time, with his tenure spanning from 2009 until Jan. 20, 2017. During that time, gas prices peaked in May 2011 at $3.97 per gallon.

By the week of Trump’s inauguration, the average fuel price was around $2.32, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The highest price during his administration was $2.96 in May 2018, and its lowest was around $1.77 in April 2020, when much of the country was locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When Trump left office on Jan. 20, 2021, the average price was around $2.39 a gallon.

Prices have indeed surged since the beginning of the Biden administration, with the national average currently at $4.82, according to AAA. While critics have blamed the president, experts have pointed to several other reasons for the spike, including higher demand after the easing of pandemic restrictions and the steep price of oil as many buyers refuse to purchase Russian oil due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Joshua Busby, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in an email to the AP that beyond releasing oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, U.S. presidents have “limited leverage over gas prices.”

“Prices are set by the market,” Busby wrote. “If there is a major increase in demand (demand resurgence as worst of pandemic ends) or supply disruption (Ukraine conflict fallout), it’s not clear any US President would have many levers to alter that situation in the short run.”

U.S. crude prices are now up 54% since the beginning of the year, and international crude prices are up almost 40% in that time, the AP reports. The OPEC oil cartel and allied producing countries including Russia announced on Thursday they will raise production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August.

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Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.