Who will Win the Election? — The Man with the Keys to the White House
Ever heard of Allan Lichtman? He created ‘The Keys to the White House’ model, which uses 13 True/False criteria to predict whether the candidate of an incumbent party will win or lose the next US presidential election.
Below, Jim Rickards applies the model to Trump as he seeks to reclaim the White House in November. According to Jim, Trump has nine ‘True’ ratings and only four ‘False’.
So, what does that mean? Read on to find out…
Until next time,
Editor, The Daily Reckoning Australia
The Man with the Keys to the White House
In a previous edition of The Daily Reckoning Australia, I spoke about the model I use to predict who will win the next US presidential election. I used this model to accurately predict a Trump victory in 2016.
Another model that is considered to have more predictive power than most other models or polls was invented by Professor Allan Lichtman of American University, with a collaborator.
This model is referred to as ‘The Keys to the White House’. It consists of 13 factors (called ‘keys’), which can be applied to the party in power to yield binary true or false answers. If the party in power gets at least eight true answers, they win the election. If the party in power gets seven or fewer true answers, they lose the election. That’s it.
Finding the keys
Here are the 13 keys according to Lichtman:
- The incumbent party holds more seats in the House after the most recent mid-term election than it did in the previous mid-term election.
- The incumbent did not face a serious challenge for the nomination.
- The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.
- There is no significant third-party challenger.
- The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
- Real annual per capita GDP growth during the president’s term exceeds mean growth during the prior two terms.
- The incumbent party effects major changes in national policy.
- There is no sustained social unrest during the incumbent’s term.
- The incumbent is untainted by major scandal.
- The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
- The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
- The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
- The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
Part of the attraction of this model is that it does not depend on polls, conventions, debates, or the notorious ‘October surprise’. In fact, this model can produce accurate forecasts as much as a year in advance of the election because many of the questions posed can be answered definitively far in advance of election day.
The problem is that these questions don’t always have accurate answers, or answers that easily escape selective biases based on partisan perspectives. Trump may seem charismatic to his blue-collar fans and supporters, but may seem merely buffoonish to his college-educated urban detractors. Still, you have to answer the questions in order for the model to produce results.
So, how does Trump score?
With those challenges in mind (and a strong dose of humility), here are the answers:
- False. (Republicans lost control of the House in 2018.)
- True. (Trump had no primary challengers.)
- True. (Trump is a sitting president.)
- True. (There is no significant third-party challenge in 2020.)
- False. (The economy began a new recession in February 2020.)
- False. (Growth from 2017–20 will be less than 2009–12 and 2013–16.)
- True. (Trump has achieved major tax, trade, immigration and prison reforms.)
- False. (There has been major social unrest starting in May 2020.)
- True. (Trump has been accused of many scandals, but the accusations are false.)
- True. (There have been no major foreign policy failures.)
- True. (The Israeli–UAE peace treaty is a world historic achievement.)
- True. (Trump must be regarded as charismatic even though he is widely disliked.)
- True. (Joe Biden is no hero and is one of the least charismatic figures on the scene.)
9/13 is good enough
Based on these answers, Trump has nine ‘True’ ratings and only four ‘False’ ratings. According to Lichtman’s rules, if the incumbent party gets eight or more True ratings, they win. At least under this interpretation of Lichtman’s Keys to the White House, Trump should be re-elected to a second term in office.
Of course, these answers are debatable. Some Trump critics might flip number 9 to False because of impeachment and number 12 to False on the ‘Trump is a buffoon’ theory. The answer to number 11 is certainly True, but it has not received that much attention despite its importance.
It’s also not clear how robust Lichtman’s model is at a time when the country is experiencing the worst pandemic in over 100 years and the worst depression in over 80 years. It’s true that the economy is in a recession (number 5), but the recession was due to the pandemic, not to any economic policies pursued by Trump.
If the public blames the pandemic and not Trump for the recession, then that factor might be less important than in times past. Likewise, the social unrest we are experiencing (number 8) arises under Democratic mayors and governors, and Trump is widely perceived as trying to stop it. A perception as a ‘Law and Order’ president could help Trump as it did George HW Bush in 1988.
My view is that the Lichtman model predicts a Trump victory, but the matter is not free from debate. Interestingly, Lichtman himself used his own model to predict a Biden victory, but that was before the Israel–UAE peace treaty, so Lichtman has number 11 as False. I publicly asked Lichtman if the peace deal would change his forecast but have not received a reply.
Under any interpretation, the model predicts a close election. If Lichtman’s original application of the model (as a predictor of popular votes rather than electoral votes) still applies, and allowing for Lichtman’s view that Biden will win, it could certainly be the case that Biden would prevail in the popular vote while once again Trump wins the electoral college and wins the White House. That would come as no surprise.
All the best,
Strategist, The Daily Reckoning Australia
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