Nationwide gasoline prices dropped 7.6 cents per gallon from last week, but were still up 31.2 cents per gallon from a year ago, according to data released today from the federal Energy Information Administration. The same data set revealed that California gas prices are down 4.9 cents per gallon from last week, but up 41.2 cents per gallon from a year ago.

The average price per gallon of unleaded gasoline in San Diego today is $3.164, compared to the national price of $2.909, reports SanDiegoGasPrices.com.

These prices, while showing decreases week-on-week and month-on-month, are still high enough to dissuade many would-be road-trippers from packing up the car and hitting the road, at least for long trips, according to the EIA.

The EIA publishes a “This Week in Petroleum” report. The most recent one had the following analysis:

First and foremost, in 2006 we have seen the highest summer average gasoline prices on record (not adjusted for inflation), surpassing even last summer, which was the highest to that point. …

What, then, can we expect to see in gasoline markets for the remainder of the summer and into the fall? Retail gasoline prices invariably reflect changes in spot and futures prices, with a lag of one to several weeks. Those markets saw a summer peak (to date) in early August, and dropped sharply last week, pointing to a probable significant decline in retail prices over the next few weeks, assuming no major events (such as global geopolitical issues, hurricanes, or major refinery problems) occur to alter their path. Given that the final 3 weeks of summer last year saw retail gasoline prices rise nearly 52 cents (most of that in the final week, due to Hurricane Katrina), we are likely to see prices finally dip below year-ago levels by Labor Day. While this may provide scant comfort to U.S. drivers still paying around $3 per gallon for gasoline, it’s a relief to some who feared prices might have gone even higher this summer.

Commuters and vacationers aren’t the only ones scrutinizing these trends, says William Watts at DowJones MarketWatch. He interviewed UCSD political science professor Gary Jacobson about the impact of high gas prices on mid-term Congressional elections. Here’s a snippet of that breakdown:

High gasoline prices don’t pinch the economy as much as they used to, but big numbers at the pump still threaten to wallop incumbents seeking to return to Congress in November.

And since Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, they may bear more voter wrath than Democrats, said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego.

“It’s not the kind of issue where some people are in favor of high gas prices and some are against it,” Jacobson said. “There isn’t a Democratic program for dealing with energy prices any more than there’s a Republican one. But it’s one of the sources of economic worry and discontent with the current powers that be.”

One of those incumbents is the 50th district’s recently elected Brian Bilbray, and one of those Democrats hoping gas prices will help influence voters to oust incumbents is Francine Busby, who recently lost to Bilbray in the election to replace Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Check out Daniel Strumpf‘s story about the upcoming election.

KELLY BENNETT

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