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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.

Poll #1842110 Election Keys

Key 5: Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during this election campaign.


Key 6: Long term economy: Real annual per-capita economic growth during President Obama's term equals or exceeds mean growth during the two previous terms of George W. Bush.


Key 7: Policy change: the Obama administration has effected major changes in national policy.


Key 8: Social unrest: there is no sustained social unrest during President Obama's term.


Key 9: Scandal: the Obama administration is untainted by major scandal.


Key 10: Foreign or military failure: the Obama administration has not suffered any major failure in foreign or military affairs


Key 11: Foreign or military success: The Obama administration has achieved a major success in foreign or military affairs


Key 12: Incumbent charisma: President Obama is charismatic or a national hero.


Key 13: Challenger charisma: Mitt Romney is not charismatic or a national hero.


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.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 23rd, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
looking at the poll results I have one question.
I wonder what the scandal is that one of the respondents referred to.
Did I miss something?
May. 24th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
Re: A cursory search online produced this:
Those "scandals" don't link to the White House.
May. 24th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Re: A cursory search online produced this:
You can make that argument for other presidents embroiled by scandals now.

What one voter may find scandalous, another may be indifferent to, as evidenced by every administration in American history.
May. 23rd, 2012 04:58 pm (UTC)
Ahh sigh I wrote such a intellectual comment (lol) to the poll and the site lost it. If I am inspired again I may try it later
May. 23rd, 2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
That always happens to my best thoughts.. I wonder if everybody's thoughts meet each other somewhere in cyberspace and
create our true reality.
Oh Lordy lord.
May. 23rd, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
I hate when that happens! The internet can be so cruel sometimes.
May. 24th, 2012 02:45 am (UTC)
ok let me try this again - late at night maybe the site will treat me better lol

5 & 6 - the economy. Although the republicans are trying to run on "it hasn't gotten better" the statistics aren't with then. Federal spending is down and employment is up. The country is in better shape that it was when Obama took over. The projections are for growth and lower unemployment .

7 & 8 - major change - the removal of "don't ask don't tell"! Is marriage equality a
continuing "social unrest"? Depends on where you are. We face a referendum here.
What about the occupy movement?

10 & 11 - the wars - Is Obama's pace quick enough? Did he stay too long?
The spot light has to be on getting out. It's the mood of the country.

12 & 13 - charisma - Obama can turn it on. We need a return to the "black preacher wake up the congregation" style and the big grin. He can also be very funny.
Romney - The Ken Doll of the GOP. Supposedly he is more relaxed in his own milieu. They have never found an "image" for him. He always seems just a bit uncomfortable in those jeans. The man who puts his dog on the top of the car and was the teenage leader of the pack for haircutting is not the person I want to invite to my party.
May. 24th, 2012 03:27 am (UTC)
The economy really intrigues me as a campaign issue. I think it will be the decisive issue in the election. Will people be content with gradual improvement or will they demand more and assume that Romney the money maker is best able to fix the economy? Will Romney steal a page from Reagan's playbook and portray Obama as another Jimmy Carter? I guess it will depend on who has the better spin doctors, but this issue I think will be the key to states like Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and many other battleground states.

I also think you've identified gay rights as polarizing. The demographics are certainly with Obama, but will this be more important to people than the economy?

I think that as the campaign progresses, those in the Democratic party who underestimate Romney will do so at their peril. Throughout the GOP primaries he was like a Timex watch: he took a licking and kept on ticking. I'm not saying he'll win, but don't count him out either.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I always love your take on things!
May. 26th, 2012 01:59 am (UTC)
As far as your attacks at Romney, negative things can be dug up about Obama too.

Put any dog in a car and roll down the window and drive down the road. The dog will stick it's head out the window. So having one in a carrier on the top of your car isn't that different. Even if you consider it cruel to put a dog on your roof in a car hauler, it's no where near as bad as eating the dog. Plus Obama has admitting to wasting away a part of his youth getting high on illegal drugs. He's also has had several radical people close to him in his past. I would say that Romney's past backround is far better than Obama's.
May. 26th, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
4) Third Party Candidate -- This one could cut either way. While it definetly knocked the Republicans out in 1912 & hurt Bush in 1992, it can help the incumbant. In 1948 it split away the undesirable parts of the Democratic party while keeping them out of the opponents hands. In 1968 George Wallace probably took more Nixon votes than Humphrey one. Remember that in 1964 Goldwater carried the states Wallace won in 1968.

5 & 6) The economy is still doing bad. When Obama took over unemployment was 7% and gas prices were $190 nationally. Right now unemployment is shown at 8.1%, but the workforce participation has shrunk to it's smallest level in over 30 years. There are also alot of people who are making less than they were before Obama became president. Your graph shows the long term economy is definetly worse, and I believe the short term is bad as well'

7) Policy change is true, but if the people don't like it, I don't see how it can be a positive. The Republicans retook the House of reps because of backlash to Obamacare.

8) No Civil unrest -- The current state of the occupy movement made me vote False. I consider stabbing cops and setting Oakland ablaze as civil unrest, and these are the presidents supporters.

9) No Scandal -- I voted false becuse of Solyndra, Fast and Furious, GSA scandals and secret servicev scandal. These things start to add up.

10 & 11)I voted true that there wasn't a military failure, but I don't think getting Bin Laden is enough alone to be considered a major military success

12 & 13) I consider both candidates to be charasmatic, but Obama is the more charasmatic of the two. Romney could always chose a more charasmatic running mate to brighten up the ticket.
May. 26th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC)
You explained that very well. For 8 I wondered about whether the rise of the Tea Party would be considered as unrest or not? Also, I'd forgotten about all the scandals you mentioned, but now I can see why you voted false and I agree that even if people feel that they're not Obama's fault, it may still put them in a mood to say let's make a change at the top. On 12 and 13 I saw it differently. I wondered if Obama has lost the charisma he had in 2008.

I enjoyed reading your analysis, thank you!
May. 27th, 2012 12:52 am (UTC)
I really don't consider the Tea Party to be civil unrest, because they're not doing anything illegal. They are just potesters who disagree with Obama. The occupy movement is doing illegal things, so they are considered civil unrest, even though they support Obama more than Romney. Remember that most of the civil unrest during LBJs term was done by people who voted for Humphrey.

Even though Obama doesn't have the artifcially inflated image he did four years ago, he's still charasmatic. I would say he's more charasmatic than Romney, but he hasn't lived up to what was promised. Romney's also more charasmatic than McCain, and Romney's not going to make the type of mistake McCain did in choosing Palin as a running mate.
May. 27th, 2012 03:07 am (UTC)
I think this illustrates how these "keys" are too subjective. There are too many terms that are open to too much interpretation, so that no matter how the election turns out, Professor Lichtman can say "see, I was right." For example, the term civil unrest means different things to different people. You define it to include illegality, while for me it's just large groups of discontented people. For example, Martin Luther King's march on Washington is something I would consider as civil unrest (or any other peaceful protest for that matter) even though it wasn't illegal. Many of the other "keys" contain ambiguous terms too, so I don't think this system is as perfect as it's made out to be.
May. 27th, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
I was actually thinking the same thing. Many of the tests are subjective rather than objective. This would make it very easy to adjust answers of the various keys after an election to make them fit within the outcome.

If you look at the current poll, different people are giving different answers to the various questions. In my opinion, numbers 8, 9, 11 & 13 could go either way. One could easily adjust the answers to these keys once the election is over and viola, they correctly predicted who would win.
May. 26th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
LOL I said I wouldn't invite Romney to my party.
One gets to chose one's friends.
All of mine treat there dogs like family. Some even share their bed with them.
Some of my friends did a bit of pot in their youth. Most of us think legalized pot would be a great revenue source.
One man's radical is another man's patriot.
lol One of my friends is a radical conservative.
It takes all kinds to make a world.
May. 26th, 2012 04:43 am (UTC)
I lost a LiveJournal friend because she hates Romney and when I tried to make the following point, she got angry at me. (I know you're much more tolerant of differing points of view, so I'm confident you won't respond with a profanity-laced tirade).

For me the issue isn't who put a dog on top of their car or who tried cocaine in high school. I get upset with the media for putting these things front and center, when the debate really should focus on contrasting the two candidates' plans for economic recovery, deficit reduction, budgets and global security. But they don't do that as long as there are shiny peripheral issues like this to get distracted by.

As for dogs, we give Abby the run of the house and she sleeps where she likes. When I'm driving with a window open, her face is out the window. When I turn the air conditioning in the car on full blast, her face is next to the nearest vent. I'd never put her in a cage on the roof mainly because I don't trust myself to secure it good enough, but I suspect that if I did, she would love the rush of air in her face. Fortunately for both of us we'll never know for sure.

Edited at 2012-05-26 04:44 am (UTC)
May. 26th, 2012 05:23 am (UTC)
Of course, I agree with you. The campaign should be about issues.
And as more thoughtful press has pointed out the two parties have very different ideas about how best to stimulate growth.
However, there are two distressing facts that shape what the press does.
1. It seems the American public loves gossip and scandal.
2. Pandering to that public sells. It brings money to the paper, the tv network etc.
Discussion of issues without inflammatory rhetoric is seen as boring. And everyone wants readers/viewers.

My initial comments, which I could not resist elaborating on, were about the charisma of the candidates. Who appears more likable. And that is a personal reaction. Conditioned by political persuasion, of course. But even people of opposite political persuasions can have a certain charm. I like Ron Paul. I wouldn't vote for him but I'd invite him to my party.

Rick Perry and Herman Caine were both a bit "loony" and not qualified to be president but they both had a magnetism that made you watch them.
For me, Romney is "plastic" and seems uncomfortable in his appearances. He doesn't seem likable. He makes me uncomfortable watching him.

That is a personal reaction. I don't expect it to be shared by everyone. And maybe by only a few other people.

Things I would like to see talked about are how to reshape the priorities of the country to make us leaders in the 21st century technological world. I just participated in a survey and discussion on how we can move beyond what is currently normative - fossil fuels - agro-business - military thinking - relations with other cultures.

The world - not just the US - is changing. If you look at history the second decade of every century begins new social, political and economic thinking.
Bob Dylan was 71 this week. His words are mote true now - The times they are a changing.
May. 26th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
Now I understand the point you were making, thanks for explaining. I completely agree too about the direction political debate should be taking. Old style rhetoric won't fix 21st century problems.
May. 27th, 2012 12:41 am (UTC)
The whole "I wouldn't invite him to my party" thing was a thinly vieled way of saying he's unfit for office. As I said, you can certainly dig up things in Obama's past that are worse.

As for "One man's radical is another man's patriot"
Reverend Wright is a racist, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrnis are domestic terrorist, do you really consider these people to be patriots? I certainly hope not.
May. 27th, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)
I hope you see this. I know this post is days old.
Thank you for the post and poll.
My very conservative friend came for lunch today.
I shared this with him.
We had a great talk about some issues and laughed about charisma.

Sunshine, good food, intelligent talk. Couldn't be a better way to spend a summer day. Thanks.
Hope you had a good day too.
May. 27th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
That sounds like it was a wonderful lunch. I have a number of friends with opposite political views who are able to discuss things like this without getting

angry or thinking less of those with the opposite point of view or feeling the need to score points. I think a good friendship is worth more than winning a million political arguments, and let's face it, it's not as if any of us have the power to change things even if we were sure we were right. I'm glad you had a great day and that you didn't let ideologies get in the way of a good friendship.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )


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