With the two major party nominees all but 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; pundits 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 25 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 2004. In both 2000 and 2004 the system was able to forecast the result months in advance. If the good doctor is reading this post, I hope he does not mind my using it for my analysis.
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. 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. Bush is not running, so the Democrats pick up 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 GOP is down more than 25 seats from four years ago. Democrats now have 2 keys.
Key Three: Did the President’s party have an unopposed nomination process ?
This one is a little harder to answer as the standard for an unopposed nomination has changed over the years. But given the problems that Senator McCain is still facing with the conservatives in the party it seems fair to turn this key against them. The Democrats now have three keys.
Key Four: Is There A Major Third Party Candidate ?
As with Key Three, this one is sometimes tough to call. In 2000 Ralph Nader was hardly a major candidate in terms of how many votes he got, but he did probably throw the election to Bush. It is possible that Bob Barr as the Libertarian candidate could do so this year. But for the moment we can give this one to the GOP. They now have one key to three for the Democrats.
Key Five: Is There Major Social Unrest ?
This one is fairly easy to answer when you look to the standards set down by Dr. Lichtman. His basic example for social unrest is 1968 or 1860, a time where there are literally riots in the streets. While there is certainly some level of social unrest, I do not think it rises to the level of national civil war. The GOP now has two keys, the Democrats have three.
Key Six: Is there a major scandal involving the President ?
Now I expect this to probably be the key that attracts the most debate. Certainly there have been a lot of scandals connected with the GOP and many people are very unhappy with President Bush. But once again, the standard is very precise. It must not simply be a basic scandal but one of national proportions, and it must directly impact the President. With this standard in mind, the GOP retains the key and the two parties are now tied at three keys each.
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.
President Bush got this key in 2004 because of the post 9/11 legislation as well as the legislation like No Child Left Behind and Medicare reform. Whether you liked the proposals or not, the fact remains they were major changes. But no such changes have happened during the second term and it seems very unlikely they will happen in the next 6 months.
So the Democrats pick up four keys, the Republicans remain with three.
Key Eight: Has The President Avoided A Major Foreign Policy Blunder ?
President Bush has said that things are better in Iraq than the media says and that history will judge that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. He may well be right, but for the moment that is not the case. Polls very clearly show that the vast majority of voters consider Iraq to be a disaster, giving the Democrats five keys to three for the Republicans.
Key Nine: Has The President Accomplished A Major Foreign Policy Success ?
Even if you give the President some slack on Key Eight, there is no way you can claim that there has been any significant Foreign Policy success over the last four years. This gives Democrats the sixth key to the White House, the Republicans remain at three.
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 Republicans. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth, which would require the current quarter (ending June 30th) to be negative. Despite the serious flaws in the economy, this does not seem likely.
On the other hand, the public perception is that there is a recession, so it is tough to call this one. However since the standards are supposed to be strictly held to, we have to give this key to the Republicans. They now have four keys, the Democrats six.
Of course if we get negative growth numbers coming out in July, this could change.
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 2005-2009 economy match or exceed the 1997-2005 economy.
This key is a little harder for me to pin down as its hard to find clear economic statistics for the entire range from 1997 through today. However given that the economy was fairly strong during 1997-2000 and started to grow back from the 9/11 slump in 2004, I think that we have to tip this key against the GOP (although if someone wishes to provide firm numbers on the topic I’d welcome it).
This gives the Democrats seven keys to four 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.
With all due respect to Senator McCain, he does not seem to have this level of heroism or charisma, so the Democrats gain an eighth key. On the surface, Senator Obama would seem to reach the charisma key but, given the problems he has had in recent weeks and the fact that we seem quite good at tearing down images, I think it is fair to tip this key against him.
The final result being eight keys for the Democrats and five keys for the Republicans.
As a result the system would predict that regardless of what happens with the Democratic primary fight or possible scandals or any other outlying events, that the Democrats are assured of a November victory.