Washington Post staffer Eli Saslow introduced readers of his April 28 front-page article to a handful of newly registered North Carolina Democrats. But the hype about gas prices from the plight of one of the Democrats from Raleigh struck me to be a probable case of fuzzy math.
Meet 18-year-old Kyla White, a senior at Raleigh's Enloe High School and a part-time receptionist at a local Sports Clips hair salon who drives a 1997 Honda (emphasis mine):
She wanted to vote for a multiracial America, one in which peers wouldn't call her "too white" for being one of a handful of black students in the Enloe honors program. She wanted to vote for no more Code Reds. She wanted to vote for lower gas prices.
She wanted to vote for Obama.
Her gas tank was near empty when White turned the ignition of her car to drive to voter services on that Friday afternoon. She spends almost $40 a week on gas, and she makes only about $120 each week working part time as a receptionist at Sports Clips. To afford driving, she started to skimp on meals out with friends. Snoopy's sold 99-cent hotdogs on Tuesdays. The nearby Mexican buffet cost only $3.99 at lunch.
Saslow did not give us the model of Honda that White drives, but a Civic would be a safe bet. At $40-a-week, gas at $3.58-a-gallon and a fuel economy of 28-miles-per-gallon, I calculate she'd drive about 313 miles-a-week or an average of 44.7 miles-a-day, which seems on the high end for a high school student commuting to school and work and back.
But even assuming White is driving the bare-bones minimum she has to for commuting to work and school, what of this assertion that she has to "skimp on meals out with friends" to finance her $40-a-week for gasoline? Even if gas were to drop to an even $3-a-gallon, White would save a little under six bucks and change assuming she still would drive as much as she does now. If gasoline were $2.94 a-gallon as it was one year ago in Raleigh, according to RaleighGasPrices.com, she'd still spend $32.87-a-week on gasoline, saving only $7.13-a-week for meals out with friends.
The fuzzy math continued with Saslow uncritically passing this along:
Luckily, the drive to voter services was just 1.6 miles -- probably about $1 round trip, White guessed.
One dollar for a 3.2-mile round trip?! At Raleigh's $3.58-a-gallon gas price average, that would mean White's car only gets 11.5 miles to the gallon. No 1997 model from Honda has a fuel economy rating that low. The closest is the Honda Passport with 14/17 for city/highway mileage respectively, according to fueleconomy.gov.
So maybe I'm wrong. Instead of driving a Honda Civic, White drives a Passport with slightly worse gas mileage than the government says she's supposed to get. Suppose White's ride gets a mere 11.5 miles to the gallon. We know she spends $40-a-week and the average unleaded price in Raleigh is $3.58-a-gallon. Crunching the numbers, we get White driving 128.5 miles-a-week for an average of 18.4 miles-a-day. That's a more believable daily commute for a high school senior. But what about the gas versus eating out dilemma?
The math, alas, is still fuzzy.
Were gas prices to magically drop to $2.94 like they were was a year ago, at 128.5 miles-a-week and 11.5 miles to the gallon, White would still spend $32.85-a-week, saving a mere $7.15-a-week to put towards dinner out with friends.