Support Marketplace

'Keys' forecasting model predicts an Obama victory

Supporters chant 'four more years' while US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at the Value City Arena - Schottenstein Center on May 5, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.

Jeff Horwich: One way to predict who will win the presidential election is by following the polls.

But polls can be fickle. Some academics prefer to cut straight to the data. Using economic and other factors, can you forecast who will win?

Yesterday we featured a model known as "Bread and Peace" that strongly projects Romney will win.

Today we have another model with a near-spotless record, “The Keys to the White House,” this time from Allan Lichtman. He's a Distinguished Professor of History at American University. Thanks for being here.

Allan Lichtman: Thanks Jeff.

Horwich: One very interesting thing about your model is that essentially, it is only the incumbent party in the White House that matters. So you're saying that no matter what Mitt Romney does, it does not matter. How can that be?

Lichtman: That's correct, because the American electorate is, above all, pragmatic. And my model indicates, based on history and predictive success, that elections are basically referenda on how well the party in power in the White House has governed.

Horwich: Your model turns on 13 "keys," as you call them, to the situation of the party in the White House. Give us a sampling of some of your favorites maybe.

Lichtman: Well there are two economic keys -- the long-term economy throughout the term and whether the economy is in recession in the election year. Then there are foreign policies, successes and failures; scandal; social unrest; third-party campaigns; whether the incumbent party candidate is the sitting president, and whether he's challenged within his own party.

Horwich: So, now to the drumroll: By your model, if Obama holds a majority of the keys, he wins the election. What do you have this time?

Lichtman: I have Obama holding 10 out of 13 keys. Therefore, Obama is a predicted winner. And this model has correctly predicted the popular vote outcome of every election -- retrospectively from 1860 to 1980; prospectively since.

Horwich: In the case of Obama, what are a couple of those important keys that will give him the election as your model foresees him?

Lichtman: Obama wins both my foreign policy keys. There's been no huge foreign policy failure like losing the Vietnam War, and obviously he had major successes in bringing down Bin Laden and Gaddafi. He's taken out foreign policy from this election, and that is very significant, even if unrecognized by the pundits.

Horwich: If he holds the foreign policy keys, he certainly must be lacking in the economic keys, right?

Lichtman: He splits the economic keys. Obviously, the long-term economy has been sluggish; he loses that. But there is not an election-year recession, so the economic keys are split. Based on the economy alone, you couldn't predict an Obama win, but it's not only the economy. Voters look at a wide variety of factors -- even those like foreign policy that may not be mentioned in the campaign.

Horwich: Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University. May the best model, and the best candidate I guess, win. Thank you.

Lichtman: Thank you so much.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...