With the presidential election a year away, it is time to predict again for Gazette readers President Barack Obama’s prospects for re-election. Forget the polls. Forget the pundits. Obama is almost certain to gain another four years in the White House next November.
This positive outlook for the president is the verdict of the Keys to the White House. The keys are a historically based prediction system that I developed in 1981, in collaboration with mathematician Volodia Keilis-Borok.
The keys are based on the study of every American presidential election from 1860 to 1980. The system has successfully predicted the popular vote results of all seven presidential elections from 1984 to 2008. They are accurate at a time when the polls and other prediction models cannot provide even roughly reliable forecasts.
For example, I predicted George W. Bush’s victory in the closely contested 2004 election a year and a half before the election. Even the election eve polls and the post-election exit polls were divided on the outcome of that contest.
The Keys to the White House consist of 13 true-false questions that gauge the performance and strength of the incumbent presidential party. Each key is phrased so that an answer of “true” always favors re-election of the incumbent party. When five or fewer keys are “false” or turned against the party holding the White House, that party wins another term in office. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.
Most analysts are forecasting that Obama will have a difficult time gaining re-election because of the sour economy. But presidential elections are not decided by the economy alone. The keys provide a complete and balanced assessment of the many factors that determine the winners and losers of these quadrennial contests.
The incumbent Democrats now have only three to four keys likely turned against them for 2012, two to three short keys short of the fatal six negative keys.
The following nine keys currently favor the Democratic Party.
*The lack of any likely nomination challenge to President Obama secures Incumbent Party Contest Key 2.
*Obama’s virtually certain nomination locks up Incumbency Key 3.
*The absence of any likely third-party challenger with chances of winning at least 5 percent of the vote gives the Democrats the Third-Party Key 4.
*The enactment of the health care bill, perhaps the most significant social legislation since the mid-1960s, secures Policy Change Key 7.
*Even with the protests organized by tea party and Occupy Wall Street movement, the absence of sustained, violent upheavals like those of the 1960s avoids loss of the Social Unrest Key 8.
*Unlike the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, it is unlikely that the Solyndra affair or any other scandal will directly implicate the president in a significant way, averting the loss of Scandal Key 9.
*Despite the still unpopular war in Afghanistan, the president is not likely to suffer a major foreign policy or military failure comparable to Pearl Harbor or losing the Vietnam War, keeping Foreign/Military Failure Key 10 in line.
*With the elimination of Osama Bin Laden and the liberation of Libya, the administration has secured major victories in foreign/military policy, winning Foreign/Military Success Key 11.
*No Republican challenger matches the charisma of Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, keeping Democrats from losing the Challenger Charisma/Hero Key 13.
The following three keys now count against the incumbent party.
*The party’s losses in the 2010 midterm elections have cost it Mandate Key 1.
*The weak economy during Obama’s term has forfeited Long-Term Economy Key 6.
*Obama has not regained the magic of his campaign, and now falls short of gaining the Incumbent Charisma/Hero Key 12.
One key remains uncertain, Short-Term Economy Key 5. This key will fall if there is double-dip recession in 2012. Even the loss of this key, however, results in only four keys counted against Obama’s re-election, still two keys short of predicting his defeat.
Beyond the possibility of an election-year recession, circumstances are unlikely to shift the verdict of the keys during the next 12 months. The Republicans will not find their Ronald Reagan of 2012. A major disaster abroad seems unlikely, as does a significant third-party campaign, despite public dissatisfaction with both Republicans and Democrats. The last third-party candidate to topple Key 4 was billionaire Ross Perot in 1996. It is extremely difficult and expensive to mount a credible third party campaign in a presidential election.
Shameless Self-Promotion: Look for the 2012 edition of “The Keys to the White House,” which Rowman & Littlefield is scheduled to publish in December.
Allan J. Lichtman is a professor of history at American University and a national political analyst. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.