The Keys To The White House Revisited
With the two major party nominees settled, speculation has begun to flow as to the outcome of the November election. Almost every day we see polls from the key swing states which are analyzed by all of the pundits, and yet most of them are guessing from day to day who will win.
Of course this is hardly a new situation; people have been trying to predict the outcome of the elections for decades and usually with mixed results at best. In the early 1980′s, a political scientist named Allan Lichtman decided to try and figure out a way to predict the outcome of Presidential elections without having to rely on the polls.
Over the last 30 years he has worked to modify and perfect this system with considerable success. In fact, his system can be used to accurately predict the outcome of every election from 1860 to 2008.
However there is one caveat, the system predicts the popular vote winner, and while that is usually also the Electoral College winner, as we saw in 2000 that is not always the case. However we have only had three elections in which the popular vote winner did not win the electoral college.
If you use 1840 as the first election in which most places counted the popular vote (you could go earlier but 1840 is undisputed) then we have 40 elections in which the popular vote winner did win so the odds are 93% it will happen.
The system itself is actually rather simple. You are presented with thirteen yes or no questions with regard to the party in control of the White House.
If the incumbent party holds on to eight or more of these keys then they will win, if the challenging party manages to grab six or more, then they win. Most of the questions are fairly easy to answer, though there is a level of subjectivity, which is why Dr. Lichtman has taken care to explain the conditions required for a yes or no answer.
So without further delay, let us take a look at the thirteen keys and see where they put us (if you are a Republican, you might want to take this in slow doses).
The first six keys are what I have termed the political keys.
Key One: Is the President running for re-election ?
This one is easy enough to answer. President Obama is running, so the Democrats get key #1
Key Two: Does the President’s party have more House seats now than they did four years ago ?
This is intended to measure support for the President’s party and is also easy to answer. The Democrats are down 40 seats from four years ago so the Republicans get key #2 making it a 1-1 tie.
Key Three: Did the President’s party have an unopposed nomination process ?
While there were some protest votes against the President in a few states I don’t think you can claim he faced any real opposition so he gets key #3 giving the Democrats a 2-1 lead
Key Four: Is There A Major Third Party Candidate ?
So far there does not seem to be any, so the Democrats now have a 3-1 lead.
Key Five: Is There Major Social Unrest ?
You could argue that things like the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement as signs of social unrest but it does not seem to rise to the level of the late 1960′s. So the Democrats now have a 4-1 edge.
Key Six: Is there a major scandal involving the President ?
You could argue about some of the scandals (or claimed scandals depending on your POV) could become major but right now there is nothing on par with Watergate or Teapot Dome.
Democrats thus win five of the six political keys for a 5-1 lead.
The next five keys are performance keys, looking at how the administration is doing.
Key Seven: Has The President Made Major Changes In National Policy ?
This key is intended to look at the broad impact of the administration. Some examples of this would be FDR during the New Deal or LBJ during the Great Society. They passed legislation than fundamentally altered the way American society operated.
Given the ruling last week on the Affordable Care act I think you can certainly say President Obama has made a major change in policy.
So Democrats now have six out of seven keys
Key Eight: Has The President Avoided A Major Foreign Policy Blunder ?
Things may not be perfect overseas but I don’t see anything you can point to right now that amounts to a major blunder on par with the 1980 hostage crisis or Vietnam
This gives Democrats a seven to one lead.
Key Nine: Has The President Accomplished A Major Foreign Policy Success ?
Bin Laden is dead, enough said.
Democrats now lead eight to one.
Key Ten: Short Term Economy Key
This key looks at the condition of the short term economy, asking if the economy is in recession on Election Day. From a purely technical standpoint, this key would seem to side with the White house since a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Economic growth has not been robust but it has not been negative.
In theory if the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2012 go negative this could change but that seems unlikely
Democrats lead nine to one.
Key Eleven: Long Term Economy
This key looks to the long term economy and asks if the per capita growth in the economy during the last term is equal to or greater than the prior two terms. In other words, does the 2009-2013 economy match or exceed the 2001-2009 economy.
Economic growth from January 2009 to present has been about 1.5%
Economic growth from January 2001 to January 2009 was about 2.5%
So the Republicans pick up this key.
This gives the Democrats nine keys to two for the GOP.
The final two keys look to the candidates themselves and ask whether they rise to the level of major charisma or national hero. Examples of this would be President Eisenhower after WW2 or Ronald Reagan/John F. Kennedy.
Certainly I do not think we can give the charisma/national hero key to Romney, so the Democrats pick that one up.
The charisma key for President Obama is a little harder to decide for me. Certainly he has charisma but he has also been in office for four years and has shown a tendency to have trouble without the teleprompter in place. Just to give the benefit of the doubt to the Republicans we can give them this key
This results in a final tally of ten keys for President Obama compared to three for Governor Romney
Just for reference in 2008 the result was eight keys for the Democrats and five keys for the Republicans.
Since the incumbent party just needs eight keys and the Democrats have ten, the current prediction would be a lock for President Obama winning re-election.
Of course this is just one method of predicting things and a lot can change between now and November, but it does serve to remind us that defeating an incumbent is very difficult