Tillis' claim that NC had the highest increase in gas prices was true, fact-checker says
In a tweet last week, Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis wrote that gas in North Carolina increased 14 cents per gallon this past week, the highest in the nation.” In this week's fact check, Paul Specht of WRAL joins us to assess Tillis' claim.
Marshall Terry: OK, Paul. So, one thing you point out about this fact check is that one can interpret Tillis' tweet in two ways. How so?
Paul Specht: That's right. This stood out to me because of the way it was phrased. Did he mean that North Carolina's increase was the highest in the nation? Or did he mean North Carolina's gas price increased 14 cents, which made it the highest price in the nation? You know, just the way it's phrased: That comma and then that part of the sentence at the end — the statement that it's the highest in the nation — sort of leaves it a little bit open to interpretation. Of course, we reached out to his office to find out what they meant.
Terry: So, which one did he mean?
Specht: They were just referring to the size of the increase itself, not the gas price in total — not the overall gas price. And so, that's what we end up fact-checking here.
Terry: OK, so is it true, then? Was that increase the highest in the nation?
Specht: From what we could tell, yes. He cited AAA. They put out weekly updates on gas prices in each state across America to just compare how they're fluctuating. And for the week that ended on Oct. 25 — that was a Monday — North Carolina's gas prices had indeed risen 14 cents from the previous Monday, Oct. 18, and that tied us with Florida for the largest price increase in the nation.
We looked elsewhere just to see if there was any variation in this. And there's another website called GasBuddy.com, and they also track this information, and we had them look at their data. They tracked Sunday to Sunday rather than Monday to Monday like AAA did, but they got a similar result. They had North Carolina's gas prices increasing 15 cents, which was alone at the top for the largest increase.
Gas in North Carolina increased 14 cents per gallon this past week, the highest in the nation.— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) October 26, 2021
Terry: So, why was the increase bigger in North Carolina than elsewhere?
Specht: You know, we struggled to pinpoint that. One expert said we don't know that there's any reason in particular that North Carolina's shot up more sharply than other states. Another expert at Rice University suggested that maybe it has something to do with complications at the Colonial Pipeline. She said that North Carolina gets 75% of its fuel from the Colonial Pipeline, which listeners may remember was hacked earlier this year. And then they had some communications issues. And she speculated, "Hey, maybe there are just some lingering issues there that are making deliveries slow."
But there wasn't one obvious reason that North Carolina would have had the larger increase when compared to other states. Someone suggested, "Hey, gas prices are going up everywhere. Maybe different states are just going to get there at different paces."
Terry: Why did Tillis tweet this when he did?
Specht: You know, in this particular tweet, he didn't criticize anyone. He just sort of put that data point out there, which again struck me as odd. In the past, he has criticized the Biden administration for inflation, as a lot of Republicans have. The GOP's sort of putting on the pressure on Democrats and ... trying to blame their policies — particularly the Biden administration policies — for inflation at the pump and grocery stores and things of that nature.
Terry: And is there any merit to those accusations?
Specht: Well, this particular claim just looked at gas prices. But PolitiFact has done a very good job at talking to experts and pointing out that gas prices in particular (are) not very closely related to presidential policy. It has a lot more to do with supply and demand and how much OPEC is allowing to be distributed throughout the world. And we've been pretty consistent on this — not just in critiques of Biden, but even going back to when George W. Bush was president. We've checked a claim showing that even when gas prices spiked in 2008, that was not a direct result of Bush's policies. So, we've been pretty consistent on that, and people can go to PolitiFact to read more (about) just what does affect gas prices.
Terry: So, how did you rate this claim by Sen. Tom Tillis?
Specht: We rated this mostly true. When it comes to our ratings, "mostly true" means that his statement is accurate but that it could use some additional information or context. And with this claim, experts told us, "Hey, it's important to note that gas prices fluctuate, shoot, by the hour." And so, depending on what day, what week what hour we measure, a different state might come out on top. In AAA's report for Oct. 25, we were tied with Florida. If you wait another day, it might be a different state on top.
You know, if we look back at AAA's reports, North Carolina didn't even crack the top 10 for states with the largest increases on Oct. 18, Oct. 14, Oct. 11. So, we just sort of jumped up there in recent days. All that to say, though: They do fluctuate, but in the snapshots that AAA took on Oct. 25 and that GasBuddy got from Oct. 24, Tillis is right. North Carolina did have the largest increase, and so that's why we gave his tweet mostly true.
Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.
Specht: Thank you.