By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the way President Barack Obama is handling high gasoline prices, although most do not blame him for them, according to a Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Tuesday.
Sixty-eight percent disapprove and 24 percent approve of how Obama is responding to price increases that have become one of the biggest issues in the 2012 presidential campaign.
In the past month, U.S. fuel prices have jumped about $0.30 per gallon to about $3.90 and the Republicans seeking to replace the Democrat in the November 6 election have seized upon the issue to attack his energy policies.
The disapproval reaches across party lines, potentially spelling trouble for Obama in the election, although the online survey showed voters hold oil companies or foreign countries more accountable than politicians for the price spike.
"Obama is getting heat for it but people aren't necessarily blaming him for it," said Chris Jackson, research director for Ipsos public affairs.
Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents all disapprove of the president's handling of gas prices, according to the online poll of 606 Americans conducted March 26-27.
Eighty-nine percent of Republicans said they disapproved, as did 52 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independents.
"People are unhappy that they are having to pay $3.90 a gallon. They want somebody to be able to lash out at and the president is as good a person as anybody," Jackson said.
BLAMING OIL COMPANIES
The most common reason cited by voters of all political stripes for the rising cost was oil company greed.
Overall, 36 percent of respondents said "oil companies that want to make too much profit" deserve the most blame for higher energy prices. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said so, as did 44 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of independents.
Twenty-six percent of all respondents said a range of factors was equally to blame, including oil companies, politicians, foreign countries that dominate oil reserves and environmentalists who want to limit oil exploration.
There was little difference in that result across party lines. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans, 24 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of independents said all of those factors were equally to blame.
Republicans have hit Obama particularly hard for his decision to block TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL Canada-to-Texas pipeline as a sign that his energy priorities are hurting America.
Hoping to placate car-loving Americans, Obama toured U.S. oil country last week to tout his "all of the above" energy strategy that includes room for oil and gas development in addition to support for renewable fuels.
In Oklahoma, he pledged to accelerate approval of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans immediately dismissed the campaign-style stop as a stunt, saying Obama does not have the authority to really jump start the project.
Jackson said Obama has little to fear, at least according to historic trends, from gas prices alone if the U.S. economy continues to recover from deep recession.
Previous spikes in fuel prices have not affected U.S. presidential election results. But economists warn that higher gas prices could slow the overall economy, which would toughen Obama's chances of winning re-election.
The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points for all respondents.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Beech)