May 23rd, 2012


Predicting the 2012 Election: The Keys

Professor Alan J. Lichtman of Harvard University believes that he has come up with a fool-proof was to predict who will win the next Presidential election. In his book called The Keys to the White House he theorizes that there are 13 "keys" or conditions which serve as predictors of every presidential election. If 5 or fewer of these keys are false, the incumbent party wins the next election, but if 6 or more are false, the incumbent party loses the white house.

According to Professor Lichtman, they have predicted every election in modern times, including the last one.

Here are the thirteen keys:

1. Incumbent Party Mandate: after the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the US House of Representatives than it did after the previous mid-term elections. [In the last midterms in 2010, the Democrats held 193 house seats to the GOP's 242]. Score this one as a false

2. Nomination Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nominations. There were no serious challengers to President Obama's nomination, so score this as a true.

3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president. Score this one also as true.

4. Third party: There is no significant third-party or independent campaign. We don't know if this will happen yet, but there are no significant third party or independent candidates on the horizon at this point, so let's score this one as a true for now.

5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. This one is very subjective (and that's where you come in). I'm not sure how one defines "during the election campaign", but let's suppose for the sake of argument, this means the last three quarters (or 9 months) prior to election day. Economist Julius Shiskin suggested defines a recession as "two down consecutive quarters of GDP." Some economists prefer a definition of a 1.5% rise in unemployment within 12 months. According to these numbers, GDP has increased in the past two quarters, 2.2% in the first quarter of 2012, and 3.0% in the last quarter of 2011. According to these numbers, unemployment has dropped in the past year, although as of last month the unemployment rate was at 8.1%. Despite these definitions, is the US economy in a recession? You tell me.

6. Long term economy: Real annual per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the two previous terms. Let's assume "term" means the president's term in office. This chart shows that while GDP has continued to rise overall, it has declined during President Obama's term, with a sharp decline in 2009. Once again, this criteria has so much room for interpretation that I'm not sure what to conclude so once again, this is where you come in.

7. Policy change: the incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. Note that the other uses the plural form of the word change. Does President Obama's national health care qualify, and have there been other major changes during his term? You tell me.

8. Social unrest: there is no sustained social unrest during the term. I would suggest that there has been no sustained social unrest in the past four years, certainly nothing like the Vietnam War protests or the those that occurred during Herbert Hoover's term, but once again, people may disagree. What do you think?

9. Scandal: the incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. I think this one is true. Please comment if you disagree.

10. Foreign or military failure: the incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. Once again, I think this one is true, but again I invite comment from those who disagree.

11. Foreign or military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. The killing of Osama Bin Laden would probably make this true, but I'll leave the final analysis up to you to decide.

12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. Is President Obama still charismatic?

13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. Is Mitt Romney charismatic?

So far, it's too early to predict many of these for the 2012 election. Of the ones that I think are clear (the first four) score them as three trues as one false. Remember, six or more false's and the system predicts a Romney win.

So, behind the cut is a poll to determine how this community collectively would score each of the remaining 9 keys. Let's see what you think.

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I welcome your comments on any of these points. I would request that you restrict your comments to your own thoughts on these points and refrain from criticism of anyone else's comments or opinion that differs from yours. Thank you in advance for treating with respect those whose opinions differ from your own.