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Gas prices having big effect

WASHINGTON — Four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline has stolen a beach vacation in South Carolina from Julie Jacobs’ family and exotic bath washes from Angela Crawford. Phil English had to sell his beloved but fuel-guzzling red pickup.

Like a plague that does not discriminate by economic class, race or age, soaring fuel prices are inflicting pain throughout the U.S. Nine in 10 are expecting the ballooning costs to squeeze them financially over the next half-year, an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll released Monday says.

Nearly half think that hardship will be serious. To cope, most are driving less, easing off the air conditioning and heating at home and cutting corners elsewhere. Half are curtailing vacation plans; nearly as many are considering buying cars that burn less gas.

As the price has spiraled upward so, too, has the public’s ire.

Two-thirds consider gas prices an extremely important issue, edging the economy and outpacing health care and Iraq as the country’s most distressing problem. In November, when gas cost about $1 a gallon less than today, just under half rated it extremely important.

“Do you think there’s an end in sight? I don’t,” the 33-year-old Crawford, a Dallas homemaker, said in an interview.

She said switching to bar soap from a favored lotion is one of many “little small luxuries” she has given up, along with fewer restaurant meals and new clothes. She also has talked with her husband, a flooring contractor, about finding a job involving less long-distance driving with his heavy van.

“It’s depressing and it makes you nervous,” she said.

The AP-Yahoo News poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks, has tracked the same 2,000 people since last fall to see how their views change during the presidential campaign. The latest survey shows how the price of gasoline has caught or eclipsed every other issue, not just as a political topic but as a problem in peoples’ lives.

“You’re saddened prices are going up and you can’t do the extra things you would have done,” said Amy Pysarenko, 35, of San Antonio, whose concern about gas prices has grown since November.