Friday, June 13, 2008

Allan Lichtman: The Keys to the White House: Updated prediction for 2008

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More than a year ago I wrote in The Gazette (‘‘Dems to take back keys to White House,” March 16, 2007) that according to The Keys to the White House, ‘‘any candidate that the Democrats nominate will almost certainly win the presidential election.” That prediction remains unchanged after both parties have selected their presumptive nominees.

The Keys are a historically based prediction system that I developed in collaboration with Russian scientist Volodia Keilis-Borok, an authority on the mathematics of prediction models. The Keys retrospectively account for the popular vote winners of every presidential election from 1860 through 1980 and prospectively forecast the winners of all six presidential elections from 1984 through 2004. The Keys predicted George W. Bush’s re-election in April 2003, well ahead of any other scientific prediction model.

The system is based on the theory that that a pragmatic electorate chooses a president according to the performance of the party holding the White House as gauged by the consequential events and episodes of a term. Debates, advertising, television appearances, news coverage and campaign strategies — the usual grist for the punditry mills — count for virtually nothing on Election Day.

The Keys are 13 diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor re-election of the incumbent party, in this case the Republicans. When six or more of these propositions are false the party in power loses the White House.

Four Keys now count in favor of the re-election of the party in power, seven are counted against its re-election, and two keys are uncertain. Thus, regardless of the outcome on the uncertain keys, there are more than enough keys turned against the incumbent Republican Party to predict its defeat in November.

The following seven Keys are turned against the incumbent party.

*The party’s losses in the 2006 midterm elections cost it Mandate Key 1.

*Bush’s inability to run again in 2008 dooms Incumbency Key 3.

*The lagging economy costs the Republicans Long-Term Economy Key 6.

*Bush has not achieved the second-term policy revolution needed to secure Policy Change Key 7.

*The disaster in Iraq costs the administration both Foreign⁄Military Success Key 9 and Failure Key 10.

*John McCain performed heroically but has not led the nation through war like Dwight Eisenhower, so the GOP loses Incumbent Charisma⁄Hero Key 12.

The following four Keys currently favor the incumbent Republican Party.

*John McCain’s decisive victory wins Contest Key 2 for the GOP.

*The lack of a third-party challenger with prospects of winning 5 percent of the vote secures Third Party Key 4.

*The absence of social upheavals comparable to the 1960s, avoids the loss of Social Unrest Key 8.

*The failure of scandals to impact the president directly so far precludes turning Scandal Key 9 against the administration.

The following two Keys are uncertain.

*It is not yet certain whether the economy will tumble into recession and cost the GOP Short-term Economy Key 5.

*Barack Obama may as yet emerge as a charismatic Democrat comparable to John F. Kennedy, but he still must be tested in a general election campaign, so Challenger Charisma⁄Hero Key 13 remains uncertain.

Events between now and Election Day are most unlikely to alter the current prediction. It would be necessary to reverse two negative Keys and both uncertain Keys would also have to fall for the GOP.

However, the Democrats have shattered precedent with presumptive nomination of an African-American. It is impossible to know in advance whether or not voters will be negatively influenced by Obama’s race. The Keys, however, are a robust system that has endured through vast changes in the electorate, the economy, the society and the technology of elections.

It is unlikely that even a path-breaking nominee will alter the negative verdict on the party in power.

Allan J. Lichtman is a professor of history at American University and a national political analyst. He can be reached at


The 13 Keys to the White House: Standings, June 2008

The Keys are stated to favor the re-election of the incumbent party. When five or fewer are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

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. (False)

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. (Uncertain)

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. (False)

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. (False)

Key 11 (Foreign⁄Military Success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (False)

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. (Uncertain)

True: 4 Keys; False: 7 Keys; Uncertain: 2 Keys Prediction: The party in power loses.