Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University, says he has a certain formula for predicting the winner of the presidential race. He has 13 “keys to the White House.” If six of the 13 go against the party currently holding the presidency, that party will lose. Otherwise, it will win.
Since 1984, he says, this formula has never been wrong about the winner of the popular vote (with the caveat that Al Gore of course won the popular vote but not the presidency).
He explained these keys recently to Paul Bedard of U.S. News & World Report:
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.
2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.
3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.
4. Third Party: There is no significant third party challenge.
5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
6. Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.
8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
Of these 13, there are just two that are objectively indisputable and not subject to change: No. 1 goes against President Obama (the Democrats hold fewer House seats now than when he took office) and No. 3 goes for him (he’s an incumbent).
The ones leaning Obama’s way are: No. 2 (despite speculation, I don’t think Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat is going to challenge him); No. 4 (despite some grumbling from labor unions, I think any third-party challenger would be more likely to take votes from a Republican than Obama); and No. 11 (the killing of Osama bin Laden almost certainly fulfills this requirement).
The one leaning against him is No. 6 (given that per capita GDP growth averaged 3.3 percent from 2001 to 2008 and has averaged just 0.4 percent in 2009 and 2010, and given what we know about GDP growth so far in 2011, it would take a true miracle for this one to go Obama’s way).
In my view, that leaves seven of the 13 factors in play. Some of them are less likely to break against Obama than others — for example, while the violent flash mobs in some U.S. inner cities could spark something larger, it’s unlikely that No. 8 (sustained social unrest) will turn against Obama. Here are my thoughts on the others:
By my count, that’s six in or leaning toward Obama’s favor, and four against him or leaning that way — with three up in the air. Lichtman, on the other hand, scores it 9-3 in Obama’s favor with just one TBD (read the U.S. News piece to see how he gets to that count).
What say you?
– By Kyle Wingfield