Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Thirteen Keys to the White House

The two political conventions apparently have broke Nielsen records, so politics is getting a lot of attention. Here is a non-partisan take on politics, on trying to predict the results.

I was introduced to this prediction approach by the Dayton Daily News op-ed page writers, who used in past elections. It was devised by Alan Lichtman (a historian) and Volodia Keilis-Borok (a geologist, believe it or not).

This was published first as an academic paper in 1981:

Lichtman, Allan J. and Voldia I. Keilis-Borok (1981), "Pattern Recognition Applied to Presidential Elections in the United States, 1860-1980: Role of Integral Social, Economic, and Political Traits," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 78 (11), 7230-7234.pp

..then as a book in 1996 entitled “The Keys to the White House. So It’s been around for awhile now.

The way it works is that if one answers “false” to 5 or fewer of 13 statements or “keys” the incumbent party wins the popular vote.

Here are the questions and my answers.

KEY 1 (Party mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections.

False. Dems gained in the midterm

KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.

True. McCain wrapped it up pretty quick.

KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.


KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third party or independent campaign.

True. No Wallace or Perot.

KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

True. We are not in a recession.

KEY 6 (Long-term economy): Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

False, I think.

KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

False. No major changes (like privatization of social security)

KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term.[/b]

True. Nothing like the sixties.

KEY 9 (Scandal): The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

True. No Watergate or Teapot Dome.

KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

True. Iraq was not a failure the way Vietnam was.

KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

False. Iraq was not an unqualified success like Desert Storm, and we are still in Afganistan and havn’t captured Bin Laden.

KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

True. John McCain is considered a hero by virtue of his POW experience..

KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

False. Barak Obama seems charismatic to me, based on his convention speech in 2004 and this year.

Counting up the “Falses”

6 False, which means the keys turn for Obama, saying he will win the popular vote (but not necessarily the electoral vote) in November.

Now some of these keys are open to interpretation and how the voters see things. Some might say McCain is not really a national hero of major stature, or Obama turns out not to be as charismatic as he seems to me. One could consider Iraq a major success by virtue of the surge working.

And you sort of see how the campaigns are pitching their strategy in alignment with this model, with the McCain campaign trying diminish Obama, attacking his character and competency, to tarnish his charisma, and the Obama campaign pushing economic issues to make the economy seem in decline (technically it is slightly growing, even if losing jobs), trying to turn key 5 their way.

This is quite close; turn one key a different way and the results change.

I think if the GOP can turn key 13 their way by successfully questioning Obama’s ability and character McCain will win.


Anonymous said...

Martin Gottlieb has been using Lichtman's model for quite some time, and he considers it pretty reliable but not bullet proof. As you mention, Jeff, it depends upon how the voting public perceives each of the 13 keys. One thing not mentioned by Lichtman is the enthusiasm for the candidates by the partys' base. If a party's base is enthusiastic, they will work hard to get their candidate elected. It's quite obvious the Democratic base is quite enthusiastic for Obama. This was not the case for John McCain, even if he did clinch the nomination fairly early. It remains to be seen, but there seems to be a renewed enthusiasm for the Republican ticket by the party's social conservative base with the introduction of Sara Palin. If she continues to impress them as she's done so far, that enthusiasm might continue until November.

Jefferey said...

I'm sure Gottlieb is where I heard of it. I just checked the book out today, so will be reading up.

Im thinking a wild card is Obama's race. This has not been a factor in past elections and may through the model.

I'd also think if partisans on both sides are enthused they would cancel each other out?

This would also depend on how effective party organization is in translating enthusiasim to votes.

Anonymous said...

key 5 is wrong. Pretty much everyone on the news agrees that this is a recession. And, even if they are wrong, the fact that they are all saying it creates its own reality.

Anonymous said...

actually, 9 and 10 are debatable as well.

Anonymous said...

Too bad you didn't have this when you were judging key 5 back in September, but the National Bureau of Economic Research now says the nation's been in recession since December 2007: