Do ‘keys to the White House’ go for or against Obama?

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:

  • No. 5 (short term economy): We might escape a technical recession between now and next fall, but it’s likely that voters will hold the sh0rt-term economy against Obama.
  • No. 7 (policy change): Lichtman describes this one as if any old change necessarily plays in the incumbent party’s favor. But given the unpopularity of Obama’s signature health-care reform — and the distinct possibility that the Supreme Court will overturn all or part of the law before the election — I think there’s a good chance this one goes against the president.
  • No. 9 (scandal): So far, there’s nothing that would qualify. But Congress and the media are still digging into the ATF’s “gunwalker” operation, and just yesterday there was a significant personnel shuffle related to it. It still has time to blow up between now and next fall. So, while I think this ends up on Obama’s side of the ledger as of today, that’s subject to change.
  • No. 10 (major military/foreign policy failure): Not to date. But with hot wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as continuing drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, there’s too much time for something bad to happen on this front. This one is uncertain.
  • No. 12 (incumbent charisma): Three years ago, this would have been a shoo-in for Obama. But he has not had much success lately in personally selling policies to the public. He’s been described even by his own supporters as being distant, cold and too quick to fold in the face of GOP demands. I think this one could go either way by the time we get to November 2012.
  • No. 13 (challenger charisma): Well, that depends on the challenger, doesn’t it? I think Mitt Romney at this point would not be described as “charismatic,” but Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann could easily wear that label. Still TBD.

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

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104 comments Add your comment

David Granger

August 31st, 2011
11:38 am

I think that President Obama is a favorite to be re-elected, for the following reasons:
1. The country’s demographics favor the Democratic party now. Partially due to years of ignoring illegal immigration, the Democratic candidate will get most of the Hispanic vote.
2. A majority of U.S. citizens favor legalized abortion and rights for gays (especially the right to serve openly in the military). Any Republican who favors these (or who is not actively AGAINST them) would have winning chances in the general election, but probably couldn’t get the nomination.
3. Despite the anger of many Democrats over President Obama’s “lay down” on the debt ceiling, it was a smart move politically. Now raising the debt ceiling can’t become an issue before the 2012 election.
4. Many of the most likely Republican nominees are rambunctious, shoot-from-the-hip kind of candidates. They say some things that really endear them to their base, infuriate the Democrats, and (most important) make the middle-of-the-road independents really wonder whether they’re good Presidential timber or not. (And in situations like that, the incumbent usually gets the “benefit of the doubt”.)
5. He’s still Black. Not only will that sew up the great majority of the African-American vote, but it will also garner him a lot of votes from people who like the symbolism of it. (And many of these are journalists, and it will be reflected in their coverage and…in some cases…the lack of it.)

Against President Obama is the economy, of course, which could always change. (And it doesn’t have to completely change…just be moving in the right direction.) Plus, the great majority of the electorate does NOT like Obamacare, and is staunchly against it. (Including many liberals, who do NOT like the mandate, but who grudgingly support it anyway just to give the President a win.) And as is always the case (with any President, liberal or conservative) a lot of the “savings” that the CBO predicted (because they are required…by law…to accept the administration’s predictions for costs and economic growth) are nonsense, and Obamacare will actually end up being tremendously expensive…both directly, and in its affect on the economy.

carlosgvv

August 31st, 2011
11:42 am

Kyle, I say that you are so desperate for Obama to lose in 2012 that, this time next year, you will be reading tea leaves and Tarot cards in hopes of seeing some sign he will lose.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
11:50 am

Obama is done! Thank GOD!!

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
11:50 am

Carlos….no need to tarot cards. This joker is doing a great job of beating himself!

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
11:53 am

76% of Americans feel the economy is getting worse. The other 24% are either blind or ignorant. See ya Barack!

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
11:55 am

Allan Lichtman has always had too much free time on his hands.

It’s the economy, stupid.

It is almost always the economy unless we are in a real shooting war.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
11:57 am

Carlos, that was about as objective an analysis of current and likely scenarios as there could be by Kyle.

Why the hate?

ByteMe

August 31st, 2011
12:13 pm

you will be reading tea leaves and Tarot cards

I was thinking chicken entrails.

ByteMe

August 31st, 2011
12:17 pm

Since 1984, he says, this formula has never been wrong about the winner of the popular vote

That’s only 7 right in a longer stream. You could get the same statistical odds flipping a coin.

Not saying it’s wrong, just that the statistics don’t support saying it’s right.

Lil' Bushie Bailout (Revised Upwards)

August 31st, 2011
12:21 pm

Obama is done! Thank GOD!!

___________________________________

You are thanking the wrong entity.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
12:23 pm

I think Licthman is saying that his formula wasn’t in place until 1984, ByteMe, not that it wasn’t accurate before then.

the original and still the best John Galt

August 31st, 2011
12:28 pm

Professor Lichtman’s system works, but the reasons that The Messiah Barack the Chosen One, the Magnificent and All Knowing, will be re-elected boil down to these:

1. The same bunch who voted for him last time will vote for him again. Now, a few may stay home, because the largess promised by The Messiah has not been quite what they expected, but net consumers of government transfer payments vote, and there is no way they will vote for Perry, Romney, or Bachman.

2. The State Controlled media will be 100 percent for The Messiah and 100 percent against his opponent. Unfortunately a huge number of Americans still get all their information from the State Controlled media.

3. Some “October Surprise” will happen magically just before the election. Maybe Bin Laden will be captured alive after a year on the ocean floor, who knows.

It may be that even these reasons complicate matters too much. It could be as simple as stating that neither Perry, Romney, nor Bachman have what it takes to defeat The Messiah.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
12:30 pm

Dont think so.

MrLiberty

August 31st, 2011
12:41 pm

By next summer the media and other will finally start using the term DEPRESSION to describe what is going on even now, but by then things will be far worse. Likely there will be massive social unrest as the parasites realize that the host is dying and will be fighting back to keep the fruits of their labor and their property. The military adventurism will continue to cause death and destruction around the globe and the absurdity of our participation will become even more apparent.

The greatest threat to Obama is that he will continue doing the very things he is doing now. Everything he does and everything he proposes, like the actions of Hoover and FDR, only makes the economic situation worse and worse.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
12:42 pm

MrLiberty….agreed.

Gm

August 31st, 2011
12:42 pm

Obama will win hands down: This administration is the cleanest administration in years, Obama the family man, morles and vaules will win out every time.
Of course he will not win in the good old boy south, it does not matter that he has these morles and vaules because his skin color over rides that for the idiots of the tea party, these retards on the right love the cowboy type that love to disgrace America around the world, the ones that lie to them and polices causes 3,000 Americans to die in Ny, never mind Obama has been keeping us safe for the last 3 years.

Lil' Bushie Bailout (Revised Upwards)

August 31st, 2011
12:44 pm

Nice job, MrLiberty in painting a setting like the ending of Terminator.

Contards are so doom and gloon unless the president is a Repub.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
12:45 pm

Gm….now that is funny! Thanks for the laugh.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
12:45 pm

Gm……you should also learn how to spell……What are “morles and vaules”?

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

August 31st, 2011
12:52 pm

#14: Hates America and actively works to weaken it.
————

Pretty sure this one goes against Obozo.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
12:53 pm

“This administration is the cleanest administration in years, Obama the family man, morles and vaules will win out every time.”

So?

Doesn’t matter one bit, Gm. Very few people now for “for” a candidate, but rather vote ‘against” his opponent.

And nice adult argument when using the term “teatard” and implying they are racist, even though no evidence of your assertion exists.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
12:56 pm

Lil’ Bushie proves that he doesn’t have an intelligent argument when he breaks out the “Contard” name-calling.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

August 31st, 2011
12:56 pm

Oops, I forgot to say hi to Lil’ Nat, everyone’s favorite sock puppet (see thread below).

Jefferson

August 31st, 2011
1:00 pm

Bachman V President — Better than Rocky III

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:02 pm

Ok I am back…..I had to run to the restroom. I just realized the waste that I just left in the toilet is more beneficial to the economy than Obama is! haha Think about it, it is true.

Gm

August 31st, 2011
1:04 pm

UGA 1999

excuse me guys morals are something the last adminstration did not have, the truth hurts ””

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:05 pm

Gm….but you said “Morles”….what is that?

DARRYL

August 31st, 2011
1:05 pm

Rick Perry charismatic LOL!!!! I don’t think so he’s to much like Bush

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:07 pm

Darryl….I am assuming you meant to say “too much like Bush”. Can you please tell us how (other than being the govenor of Texas) he is like President Bush?

Rafe Hollister

August 31st, 2011
1:08 pm

Fast and Furious is going to blow up all over Mr. Holder and his buddy Barry. The economy is going to get worse. Unemployment among young blacks is near 40% and among all blacks is 16%. I know that Black America loves this fellow but he has done nothing for them but take them for granted. Don’t see them turning out in the astounding numbers they did in 2008. The race pimps are going to drag up everything they can to keep them stirred up, but I think conditions on the ground will deter a heavy turnout.

College kids are turned off to Obama, they can’t find jobs are moving back in with Mama. Don’t think we are going to see Obamagirl this time.

i think Reps win control of Senate, keep House, and win White House, triple crown.

xCalaber

August 31st, 2011
1:08 pm

Kyle, Nice, balanced on the analysis. I might like it to be stronger one way or the other but the criteria are pretty clear even if the condition of the country in 2012 is not yet. A big divide is on the horizion.

Obama has only proposed two major initiatives: the $800 billion stimulus that most economists and Voters think was a failure and the significantly unpopular Obamacare. Now he is under pressure from his own party for a budget busting, class warfare oriented “jobs” bill. While such an action will galvanize the left it it will also galvanize the right and lose the middle. Americans want to grow opportunity not see another make-work, union puppet boondoggle. If Obama gives into the left, count on a rousing, flag waving historic loss for the Democrats.

Lil' Bushie Bailout (Revised Upwards)

August 31st, 2011
1:10 pm

“This administration is the cleanest administration in years, Obama the family man, morles and vaules will win out every time.”

So?

_________________________________________________

Yeah, like that wasn’t a big deal when Bush got elected. And I thought Repubs were all for family-values?

ragnar danneskjold

August 31st, 2011
1:15 pm

Sounds like there is no reason to hold an election, Thank goodness we have political scientists to tell us what we want.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:16 pm

Does anyone find it hilarious that the MLK memorial is white?

Lil' Bushie Bailout (Revised Upwards)

August 31st, 2011
1:17 pm

Nope. Just you race pimp.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
1:18 pm

Lil’ Bushie, when all things are equal, i.e. the economy is rolling along, there are no shooting wars and there is no incumbent, people will look to other things like morals, especially given the Clinton escapades.

But trying to compare a single issue in the election of 2000 to the one in 2012 is a waste of time, as the conditions which allowed that issue to become important then do not exist now.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:18 pm

OMG I find it one of the funniest blunders of all time. It is great!

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
1:22 pm

Darryl, while I don’t particularly like Rick Perry, even an objective observer would admit the guy is charismatic on the stump. You can disagree with his policies all day long, but denying his charisma is a bit too partisan.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
1:24 pm

UGA 1999, I don’t think it’s relevant in the least. Memorials are done in stone. Stone is usually white.

Lil' Bushie Bailout (Revised Upwards)

August 31st, 2011
1:25 pm

Gotcha! It is hard to keep up with the Repubs play book. I might just file that under “Do as I say, not as I do.”

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:29 pm

Tiberius….Yeah I know, I know.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
1:29 pm

Rafe, right now I’m thinking that the GOP loses 10-15 seats in the house but still retains control (and Boehner get replaced as Speaker), the Senate becomes 50-50 with Scott Brown losing his MA seat (but only if Elizabeth Warren gets in the race), and a toss-up on the White House. The toss-up is due to who will be nominated. If Perry is nominated, we get another 4 years Hope & Incompetent ™. If Romney is nominated, he wins by no more than 25 electoral votes.

that's goofy

August 31st, 2011
1:31 pm

“i think Reps win control of Senate, keep House, and win White House, triple crown.”

That worked out so well last time: 2 wars, housing crash, Wall Street bailout, beginning of economic melt down. Heck of a job GOP.

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:33 pm

That’s goofy…..So in your opinion what has Barack done to help our situation? Housing market continues to crash, entered into another war (Libya), Unemployment over 9%…….Heck of a job Dems!

Nat Turner

August 31st, 2011
1:42 pm

Tiberius, even though we don’t see eye to eye on Huntsman (who should become President), I agree with everything you said at 1:29.

Ayn Rant

August 31st, 2011
1:44 pm

Guess the hot issues for Indecision 2012!

Job creation? No, that was fixed by extending the Bush tax cuts past 2010. Budget deficit? No, there’s no budget, and the Super Committee will fix the deficit. Nation building? No, we’ve already reconstructed Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the former Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Foreign policy? Forget it; nobody pays attention to a distended military power that’s bankrolled by its only potential enemy.

Guess it’ll just be Democrats vs. Republicans, with the victories doled out more or less evenly between the two parties. The individual winners will be the politicians who can extort and spend the most to convince voters that the solution to all our national problems is to do again and again what’s already tried and failed.

Another round of stimulus spending will surely jolt us out of recession; too bad our banker’s losing patience and we don’t have any worthwhile shovel-ready projects. More tax cuts and loopholes for the multimillionaires and Big Business will surely break loose their trillions of dollars of parked capital; after all, they’re running out of financial parking space. What more could we hope for than a trickle of coins from the pool of capital at the top to the middle class, and a sprinkle of crumbs from the rich man’s table for the poor?

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:47 pm

Ayn Rant…..Remind me again why the rich and the middle class are responsible for supporting the poor?

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

August 31st, 2011
1:53 pm

“That worked out so well last time: 2 wars, housing crash, Wall Street bailout, beginning of economic melt down. Heck of a job GOP.”

That’s Goofy, if parties and political conditions always remained the same, we’d still be electing Whigs.

Jefferson

August 31st, 2011
1:57 pm

I would laugh if the president is reelected, but won’t cry if he isn’t…can you say the same of the GOP puppet that will be in the race?

UGA 1999

August 31st, 2011
1:59 pm

Jefferson….who?