Allan Lichtman's prediction: Obama wins re-election in 2012
It is now a long-standing tradition that every four years, Gazette readers receive an early forecast of which party will win an upcoming presidential election, based on the Keys to the White House. For example, I predicted George w. Bush's re-election in an April 24, 2003, column and the Democrats' 2008 triumph in a column on March 16, 2007.
Although the next presidential election is some 32 months away, this is an appropriate time to issue my earliest prediction yet; enactment of the landmark health care reform bill nearly guarantees President Barack Obama's re-election in 2012.
I developed the Keys to the White House in 1981, in collaboration with Volodia Keilis-Borok, a world-renowned authority on the mathematics of prediction models. Retrospectively, the keys accurately account for the results of every presidential election from 1860 through 1980. Prospectively, the keys predicted well ahead of time the popular-vote winners of all seven presidential elections from 1984 through 2008.
History shows that the choice of a president does not turn on debates, advertising, speeches, endorsements, rallies, platforms, promises or campaign tactics. Rather, presidential elections are primarily referenda on the performance of the party holding the White House.
The Keys to the White House consist of 13 true-false questions that gauge the performance and strength of the incumbent presidential party. Each key is phrased so that an answer of true always favors re-election of the incumbent party (see table, below). When five or fewer keys 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.
With the health care bill now on the books, the party in power now has only four keys likely turned against it for 2012, two short of the fatal six negative keys. Thus, President Obama could endure an additional setback and still win re-election.
The following nine keys currently favor the incumbent Democratic Party.
-The lack of any likely nomination challenge to President Obama secures Incumbent Party Contest Key 2.
-Obama's virtually certain nomination locks up Incumbency Key 3.
-The absence of any likely third-party challenger with chances of winning at least 5 percent of the vote gives the Democrats the Third-party Key 4.
-The economy will probably be in the recovery stage in 2012, gaining Short-term Economy Key 5.
-The enactment of the health care bill, perhaps the most significant social legislation since the mid-1960s, secures Policy Change Key 7.
-Even with the tea party protests, the absence of sustained, violent upheavals like those of the 1960s avoids loss of the Social Unrest Key 8.
-It is unlikely that Obama will suffer a scandal comparable to Teapot Dome in the 1920s or Watergate in the 1970s, averting the loss of Scandal Key 9.
-Despite the on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president is not likely to suffer a major foreign policy or military failure, comparable to Pearl Harbor or losing the Vietnam War, keeping Foreign/military Failure Key 10 in line.
-No Republican challenger matches the charisma of Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, keeping Democrats from losing the Challenger Charisma/Hero Key 13.
The following four keys now count against the incumbent party:
-The party's prospective losses in the 2010 midterm elections probably will cost it Mandate Key 1.
-The weak economy during Obama's first year in office portends the loss of Long-term Economy Key 6.
-Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama has not gained the major triumph abroad needed to secure the Foreign/military Success Key 11.
-Obama has not regained the magic of his campaign, and now falls short of gaining the Incumbent Charisma/hero Key 12.
Of course, circumstances can shift before the 2012 election. On the negative side for President Obama, the economy could slide into recession again during the election year, or he could face a scandal or an unexpected disaster abroad. However, it is also possible that the Democrats could contain their losses in the midterm elections below 21 seats and hold Mandate Key 1, especially if the tea party movement runs independent campaigns in seats held or contested by moderate Republicans. Robust economic growth during the next two years could regain the long-term economy key. Obama also could regain his charisma or achieve a foreign policy triumph such as capturing Osama bin Laden.
Despite an always-uncertain future, President Obama is currently holding a much stronger hand for 2012 than his Republican opponents. The early verdict is that the president will secure re-election in 2012.
The 13 Keys to the White House: standings, March 2010
The Keys are stated to favor the re-election of the incumbent party. When five or fewer are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the other party wins.
KEY 1 (Party Mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. (FALSE)
KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. (TRUE)
KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (TRUE)
KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third party or independent campaign. (TRUE)
KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (TRUE)
KEY 6 (Long-term economy): Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth
during the previous two terms. (FALSE)
KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. (TRUE)
KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (TRUE)
KEY 9 (Scandal): The administration is untainted by major scandal. (TRUE)
KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (TRUE)
KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (FALSE)
KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. (FALSE)
KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (TRUE)
True: 9 Keys; false: 4 Keys. Prediction: Incumbent Obama wins in 2012
Allan Lichtman is a professor of history at American University and a national political analyst. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.