The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Rethinking Those Never-Wrong Criteria for Predicting Presidential Elections . . .


My Internet continues to move about as quickly as the Guantanamo Bay closure process. A belated offering from the Morning Jolt:

Yeah, But How Does Alan Lichtman Do in His Fantasy Football League?

At U.S. News and World Report, Paul Bedard reports,

Allan Lichtman, the American University professor whose election formula has correctly called every president since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election, has a belated birthday present for Barack Obama: Rest easy, your re-election is in the bag.

“Even if I am being conservative, I don’t see how Obama can lose,” says Lichtman, the brains behind The Keys to the White House.

Lichtman’s prediction helps to explain a quirk in some polling that finds that while Americans disapprove of the president, they still think he will win re-election. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

Working for the president are several of Lichtman’s keys, tops among them incumbency and the scandal-free nature of his administration. Undermining his re-election is a lack of charisma and leadership on key issues, says Lichtman, even including healthcare, Obama’s crowning achievement.”

You really want to believe Alan Lichtman’s never wrong? Ask his wife for a second opinion.

By the way, only someone with absolutely no familiarity with “gun-walking” or “Fast and Furious” would declare Obama’s presidency “scandal-free.”

Even the often Eeyore-ish Allahpundit punches holes in the Lichtman formula at Hot Air: “if I’m reading this correctly, the GOP will be within one key of winning the presidency if (a) economic indicators look bad next year, which is only too grimly plausible, and (b) they nominate someone charismatic, like, say, Rick Perry. (What the threshold is for measuring “charisma,” I have no idea.) In which case, how can Lichtman seriously say, “I don’t see how Obama can lose”? Especially since, surreally, he’s counting the stimulus, which the public reviles, and ObamaCare, about which the public is deeply suspicious, as a point in Obama’s favor because they are, after all, major “changes” to American domestic policy. By that standard, even the dumbest, most hated piece of legislation should be treated as an asset to a presidential campaign so long as it’s significant enough to constitute “major change.” If you flip that Key to the GOP, then you’ve got six for the Republicans — enough to take the White House by Lichtman’s own metrics.

All of which assumes, of course, that this will be an ordinary election like the past seven were. Maybe it will; maybe there’s no such thing as an extraordinary election. But the state of the economy is surely extraordinary, poised as it is for a double-dip, and unemployment is extraordinary compared to any other era over the past 75 years. That is to say, we’re assuming that these “Keys” are equally weighted in election after election, no matter the circumstances, when basic awareness of the current political climate suggests the two economic Keys will be weighted way more heavily than any of the others. Can’t wait to see how it plays out. If, heaven forbid, we do end up in another recession and The One wins anyway, then maybe Lichtman really is a genius.”

By the way, not that this discredit’s Lichtman’s theory, but it is worth remembering he ran for Senate in Maryland in 2006 as a Democrat and lost in the primary to Ben Cardin.

The problem isn’t with Lichtman’s criteria, it’s how he interprets current circumstances in that formula. He says there’s no “social unrest” during Obama’s term. (I take it he hasn’t been to any NFL preseason games.) But how certain can he be that we won’t have any if we dip back into recession? How about “social restlessness”? How would he define the flash mobs, or the phenomenon that Walter Russell Mead calls “the American Tinderbox“? Does the violence on our southern border rise or the recent high-profile protests in places like Wisconsin rise to the level of “social unrest”? Or do American cities have to look like London first?

Lichtman declares Obama has had no major foreign-policy failure; I wonder how long circumstances in Afghanistan will permit that interpretation. This isn’t to say our efforts there are doomed, just to recognize that we’re always one tragic helicopter crash away from another high-profile round of public doubt in the importance of a continued U.S. presence there.

Tags: 2012 , Barack Obama


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