The Keys to the White House: Prediction for 2008

By Lichtman, Allan | Social Education, January-February 2008 | Go to article overview

The Keys to the White House: Prediction for 2008


Lichtman, Allan, Social Education


Political Change in America

The winds of political change are blowing through America in 2008 and will sweep the party in power from the White House next November. That is the verdict of the Keys to the White House, a prediction system that I developed in collaboration with Vladimir Keilis-Borok, founder of the International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics. I have been sharing with readers of Social Education predictions of presidential election results, based on the Keys, since Bill Clinton faced off against Bob Dole in 1996.

The Keys model accounts for the popular vote winner of every American presidential election since 1860 (see Table 1). It has correctly forecast in advance the popular vote winner of all six presidential elections from 1984 to 2004, usually months or even years prior to Election Day. In 2004, for example, the Keys forecast George W. Bush's re-election in April 2003, nearly a year before any other academic model. The Keys to the White House, as of the beginning of January 2008, indicate that Democrats will win the popular vote in 2008, regardless of the identity of their party's nominee.

The Keys Model

The Keys to the White House show that a pragmatic American electorate chooses a president according to the performance of the party holding the White House as measured by the consequential events and episodes of a term--economic boom and bust, foreign policy successes and failures, social unrest, scandal, and policy innovation. Nothing that a candidate has said or done during a campaign, when the public discounts everything as political, has changed his prospects at the polls. Debates, advertising, television appearances, news coverage, and campaign strategies--the usual grist for the punditry mills--count for virtually nothing on Election Day.

The Keys give specificity to this performance model of presidential elections through 13 diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor re-election of the incumbent party (see Table 2). When five or fewer of these propositions are false or turned against the party holding the White House, that party wins another term in office. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

Unlike many alternative models, the Keys include no polling data, but are based on the big picture of how well the party in power and the country are faring prior to an upcoming election. In addition, the Keys do not presume that voters are driven by economic concerns alone. Voters are less narrow-minded and more sophisticated than that; they decide presidential elections on a wide-ranging assessment of the performance of the incumbent party, all aspects of which are reflected in one or more keys. Even without counting a single economic key against the incumbent Republicans, they would still be predicted losers in 2008.

Answers to some of the questions posed in the Keys require the kind of informed evaluations that historians invariably rely on in drawing conclusions about past events. However, all judgment calls are made consistently across elections; the threshold standards established in the study of previous elections must be applied to future contests as well. The Keys were initially developed through the retrospective study of presidential elections from 1860 to 1980 and subsequently applied to predicting the results of elections from 1984 to 2004.

The Verdict for 2008

At the time of this writing in November 2007, eight keys were called against the incumbent Republican Party, two more than necessary to predict its defeat on Election Day 2008 (see Table 3).

The following eight keys fall against the incumbent party:

* The Democrats won more than enough U.S. House seats in the 2006 midterm elections to topple Key 1 (party mandate).

* The Republicans are battling fiercely in choosing a nominee to replace George W. …

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