The Keys to President Barack Obama’s Re-election Chances

The coming mid-terms look, by all accounts, very bad for Democrats. They will almost certainly lose a large number of seats and be lucky to keep the House of Representatives. Many are comparing Democratic losses to those in 1994, when Republicans won landslide victory.

There is another analogy to 1994, however, which will probably make Democrats happier. President Bill Clinton, after devastating mid-term losses, went on to win a comfortable re-election campaign. Can Mr. Obama do the same?

The book “The Keys to the White House,” by Professor Allan J. Lichtman provides a fascinating answer. Mr. Lichtman argues that the results of a presidential election can be predicted months or years beforehand by a series of thirteen “keys.” According to this theory, if the incumbent party or current president captures a certain number of “keys”, it will win the election. Otherwise it will lose.

This can readily be applied to the 2012 presidential election. Here are Mr. Lichtman’s exact words:

The Keys to the White House are stated as conditions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer statements are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the incumbent party loses.

Key 1: Incumbent-party mandate – After the midterms the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections.

Key 2: Nomination-contest – There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination.

Key 3: Incumbency – The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president.

Key 4: Third party – There is no significant third-party or independent campaign.

Key 5:  Short-term economy – The economy is not in recession during the election campaign

Key 6: Long-term economy – Real annual per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

Key 7: Policy change – The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

Key 8: Social unrest – There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

Key 9: Scandal – The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

Key 10: Foreign or military failure – The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

Key 11: Foreign or military success – The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

Key 12: Incumbent charisma – The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

Key 13: Challenger charisma – The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

A year before the 2008 presidential election, Mr. Lichtman used these keys to confidently predict that Democrats would win the coming election. Seven of the keys – the incumbent-party mandate, the nomination contest, incumbency, policy change, foreign/military failure, foreign/military success, and incumbent charisma – were going against the Republican Party at that point. As the election went on, three other keys turned against them: short-term economy, long-term economy, and challenger charisma. The Republican Party thus went into the 2008 presidential election with ten of the thirteen keys turned against them. In this context, it is not surprising that Senator John McCain lost.

Let’s take a look at how the keys are stacking up in 2012:

Key 1: Incumbent-party mandate – After the midterms the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections.

Democrats would have to lose twenty-three or less seats for this statement to be true. That’s not looking like its going to happen. This statement is PROBABLY FALSE.

_____________________

Key 2: Nomination-contest – There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination.

Nobody looks likely to contest Mr. Obama in the Democratic primary. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 3: Incumbency – The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president.

The Democratic candidate is indeed the sitting president. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 4: Third party – There is no significant third-party or independent campaign.

Ralph Nadar and 2000 effectively killed-off third-party candidacies for a generation. At the moment, 2012 isn’t looking any different. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 5:  Short-term economy – The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

This is a tough one – the economy probably won’t be in recession in 2012, but it certainly could feel like a recession. Given that so much of Democratic troubles stem from the short-term economy, for the moment this statement will be FALSE.

_____________________

Key 6: Long-term economy – Real annual per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

This particular statistic is also tough to find, but we can certainly infer some things from just looking at real GDP. According to my calculations, Mr. Bush averaged 2.0% real GDP growth (the relevant websites are here and here). That’s pretty low, but real GDP growth was -2.6% in 2009 because of the recession. The first quarter of 2010 was 3.7%; the second quarter 1.6%; and the third is estimated to be 1.5%. So real GDP growth under Mr. Obama has been something like an average -0.5%. Over the eight quarters left until November 2012, real GDP would have to grow by something like an average 4.2% for Democrats to win this key. That’s just within the conceivable bounds of possibility, although it’s quite unlikely. This statement is UNKNOWN – LEANING FALSE.

_____________________

Key 7: Policy change – The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

Health care definitely was a major change in national policy. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 8: Social unrest – There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

Tea Party shenanigans don’t count as “sustained social unrest.” This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 9: Scandal – The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

The Obama administration has not yet had a major scandal. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 10: Foreign or military failure – The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

Likewise, Mr. Obama hasn’t suffered a major failure overseas yet. (Although Afghanistan is not looking too good these days.) This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 11: Foreign or military success – The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

But neither has Mr. Obama achieved a major success overseas. This statement is FALSE.

_____________________

Key 12: Incumbent charisma – The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

Mr. Obama certainly fits the definition of “charisma” to the word. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

Key 13: Challenger charisma – The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

Although this could change, the current crop of Republican candidates doesn’t look very charismatic. This statement is TRUE.

_____________________

All in all, the Democrats end up holding nine keys out of thirteen (they need seven to win). Four statements are false or unknown; nine are true. Under Mr. Lichtman’s system, then, Mr. Obama looks set to win re-election in 2012.

Of course things might change and get worse for Democrats. The Republicans might nominate somebody like Senator Scott Brown, who is readily equipped with charisma – winning the “challenger charisma” key. Afghanistan might turn into Mr. Obama’s military failure, making him lose that key. The Obama administration might become engulfed in scandal and lose another key.

On the other hand, things might also get better. Mr. Obama could achieve a major foreign success and win that key: peace between Israel and Palestine, for instance. The economy might be growing steadily come 2012 (giving Democrats another key), or Democrats might miraculously end up losing less than twenty-three seats in the House (thus holding another key).

But whatever changes happen, Mr. Lichtman’s system gives Democrats surprisingly bright prospects in the 2012 presidential election. Democrats are quite gloomy nowadays, but come November 2012 their spirits may be a bit brighter.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in 2012 Presidential Election and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Keys to President Barack Obama’s Re-election Chances

  1. Samuel Smith says:

    I Think we all need to see how Employment can be more efficient and Lots More Opportunity for People to wrok and get Payed, so why not give Barack Obama Another Chance.

  2. peakers82 says:

    I believe, barring anything we can’t really predict (a major scandal for instance,) Obama’s reelection will absolutely hinge on the economy. People aren’t yet seeing results from the stimulus and so it’s easy for Republicans to say that it failed and we have massive government spending and no recovery. As a result midterms look bad for Democrats, but Obama has to think longer than that. He’s not likely to have any major legislation for people to be for or against (personally I think it’s sad that education reform doesn’t sway people’s votes, but it doesn’t) So the question will be once again “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

  3. Ron says:

    I think 8%-8.5% means a Gerald Ford ’76 style loss for Obama. He’d probably get back most of the soft Kerry states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, but fail to win Bush states he won last time like Ohio, Colorado, and Florida and end up with around 247 EV’s.

    If its between 7.5% and 7.9%, he probably wins a Bush ’04 style victory.

    • inoljt says:

      I actually disagree. Obama either wins big, or he loses big. Incumbent presidents either win by more than they won in their first election – or they lose big. That’s been the case with Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Kennedy/LBJ, and Roosevelt. The only exception is Ford, who narrowly lost.

    • inoljt says:

      But his successor LBJ won by more than Kennedy, which is what I was talking about.

  4. Ron says:

    If the economy is still bad or is even percieved to be bad, Obama will likely get a primary challenge.

    2012 could very well be like 1992, where GDP had been growing at a brisk pace for over a year, but it still felt like a recession because unemployment barely budged by election day.

    If unemployment is still above 8% by election day 2012, I dont see how Obama wins. The highest unemployment rate a President got reelected with in recent history was Reagan with 7.3% in 1984 and Obama isnt half the politician that Reagan was.

    • inoljt says:

      I agree with you. Personally, I think that everything does depend on the unemployment rate and how the economy is in 2012.

      Interestingly, most reports predict that in 2012 unemployment will be slightly above 8% in 2012.

      Is that good enough for re-election? I personally think that it’s just in the zone in which you can’t really tell. Anything above 9% is probably a guaranteed loss; anything below 7% is a guaranteed win, in my opinion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s