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Poll: More fear gas prices will be a hardship

The pinch at the pump is starting to feel more like a punch for a growing number of Americans.
/ Source: The Associated Press

More people are feeling that record-high gas prices soon will have their wallets running on empty.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed for an AP-AOL poll expect fuel costs will cause them financial hardship in coming months. That’s sharply higher than in April, when about half felt that way.

“I filled up last Monday and it cost me $53,” said Gary Spaulding of Fulton, N.Y., referring to his Ford Explorer. “One of the cars we’re going to get rid of. We can’t afford both of them.”

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is more than $2.40 per gallon, compared with $1.86 a year ago and about $2.21 in April, according to the auto club AAA.

And costs are expected to keep rising: Prices for crude oil reached a record of more than $66 a barrel Friday. That’s almost 50 percent higher than a year ago.

The poll conducted for The Associated Press and AOL News found that 64 percent say gas prices will cause money problems for them in the next six months. In April, 51 percent expressed such concerns.

Those most likely to be worried are people with low incomes, the unemployed and minorities. However, the level of concern was rising fastest among women, retirees, married people and those living in the suburbs.

“If it gets any higher, I won’t be able to drive,” said Lois Zumm, a semiretired library worker from Fox Lake, Wis. “I live off my Social Security mostly. And I’ve got to save something for winter because the heating costs are going to be out of this world.”

Filling up with regular gas for the driver of a subcompact with a 12-gallon tank has increased from just over $22 a year ago to more than $28 now. Filling up with premium gas for the driver of an SUV or a big truck with a 20-gallon tank has increased from $60 a year ago to $78 now.

“It cost $65 last week for a fill-up of our Expedition,” said Carla Woyden, a mother of four from the Philadelphia area who works part-time. “My husband travels a lot for his job. If he has to drive that (car) around to every corner of the East coast, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys for the University of Michigan, said high gas prices can dampen enthusiasm even when the rest of the economy is good.

“It has a rather large effect on the public’s mood about the economy, especially among lower-income households,” he said. “It directly reduces their spendable income, because they are not able to conserve their use of gas very easily — their trips to work and to the store.”

Only about a third in the poll said they think President Bush is handling the nation’s energy problems effectively, while almost six in 10 disagree. When asked whom they blame most for the rise in gas prices, people were most inclined to blame the oil companies, followed closely by politicians and countries that produce oil.

“I think they’re all in cahoots,” said Anna Marie Richard of Granada Hills, Calif.

David Svoboda, who lives near Steubenville, Ohio, said Americans looking to blame someone need to look in the mirror.

“We’re not doing enough ourselves — buying the big SUVs — we don’t seem to care,” he said.

The AP-AOL News poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Aug. 9-11 by Ipsos, an international polling firm. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.