By Allan J. Lichtman
In two previous columns, in March 2010 and June 2011, I informed Gazette readers of my early prediction for the presidential election based on the Keys to the White House. Nothing has changed in this final prediction. The Keys still point strongly to an Obama victory next month.
The Keys to the White House are a historically based system for predicting the results of American presidential elections. I first developed the Keys system in 1981, in collaboration with Volodia Keilis-Borok, a world-renowned authority on the mathematics of prediction models.
Retrospectively, the Keys accurately account for the results of every presidential election from 1860 through 1980. Prospectively, the keys have predicted well ahead of time the popular-vote winners of all seven presidential elections from 1984 through 2008. The Keys first predicted a Democratic victory for 2008 in an article in the journal Foresight in February 2006.
The Keys model gives specificity to the idea that it is governance, not campaigning, that counts in these elections. It tracks the big picture of how well the party holding the White House has governed the country and does not shift with events of the campaign.
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. Obama is a predicted winner with 10 Keys in his favor and only three turned against him.
The following 10 Keys currently favor the incumbent Democratic Party.
-- The lack of any likely nomination challenge to President Obama secures Incumbent Party Contest Key 2.
-- Obama’s nomination locks up Incumbency Key 3.
-- The absence of any likely third-party challenger with a chance of winning at least 5 percent of the vote gives the Democrats the Third-Party Key 4.
-- The economy is in a slow recovery, not a recession, gaining Short-term Economy Key 5.
-- The enactment of the health care bill secures Policy Change Key 7.
-- The absence of sustained, violent upheavals like those of the 1960s avoids loss of the Social Unrest Key 8.
-- The lack of a major presidential scandal averts the loss of Scandal Key 9.
-- The president has not suffered a major foreign policy or military failure comparable to Pearl Harbor or losing the Vietnam War, keeping Foreign/Military Failure Key 10 in line.
-- The elimination of Osama bin Laden secures Foreign/Military Success Key 11.
-- Mitt Romney’s lack of charisma keeps 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 cost it Mandate Key 1.
-- The weak economy during Obama’s term results in the loss of Long-Term Economy Key 6.
-- Obama has not quite regained the magic of his 2008 campaign and falls just short of gaining the Incumbent Charisma/Hero Key 12.
As a national system, the Keys predict the popular vote, not state-by-state results for the Electoral College. The conventional wisdom, of course, asserts that the Electoral College vote will be decided by a handful of so-called “battleground states.”
In fact, it is the national popular vote that typically determines the outcomes in the battleground states. Since the turn of the 20th century, the national popular vote has coincided with the Electoral College vote in 27 of 28 elections (96 percent). The only exception occurred in the highly contested and controversial election of 2000.
Focused spending and organizing in battleground states also yields minimal results, according to a study by political scientist Alan Abramowitz. He found that in 2008, Obama’s huge organizational and spending advantage in 15 battleground states netted him an average increase of just 0.8 percent of the vote above projections based on 2004 election patterns and Obama’s surge in the national popular vote.
As goes the popular vote this year, history indicates that the electoral vote will follow, giving Obama another four years in office. Wisely, the president should use the remainder of the campaign to spell out a clear second-term vision and build a mandate for governing after the election.
The 13 Keys to the White House: Standings, October 2012:
Key 1 (Party Mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. (False)
Key 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination. (True)
Key 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (True)
Key 4 (Third Party): There is no significant third-party or independent campaign. (True)
Key 5 (Short-Term Economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (True)
Key 6 (Long-Term Economy): Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. (False)
Key 7 (Policy Change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. (True)
Key 8 (Social Unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (True)
Key 9 (Scandal): The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. (True)
Key 10 (Foreign/Military Failure): The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (True)
Key 11 (Foreign/Military Success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (True)
Key 12 (Incumbent Charisma): The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. (False)
Key 13 (Challenger Charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (True)
10 Keys true, 3 Keys false
Prediction: Incumbent Democrats win in 2012