Aug 31 2011

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Model Predicts Obama Victory?

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Can We Predict Election Results?

Though Gallup daily tracking has his job approval at 38%, President Obama can take heart.

Allan Lichtman, an American University professor whose election formula has correctly called every president since Reagan in `84, predicts that POTUS will be re-elected in a walk.

According to US News and World Report, Lichtman said “Even if I’m being conservative, I don’t see how Obama can lose.”

Taking nothing away from Lichtman, a central element to his perfect record is that his formula – 13 keys – relies on subjective answers.  That Lichtman has predicted correctly in the past is indeed impressive.  But his current analysis is not quite the slam dunk he predicts if you take a different perspective.

To be re-elected under Lichtman’s formula, President Obama must “win” six or more of the 13 keys .

Let us go through his analysis  – and see if there is a credible counter point that might influence the result.

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.  Lichtman correctly states that Obama loses this key with the GOP triumph in 2010.

Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party  nomination.  Lichtman says Obama wins this key, with the apparent absence of any challenge. While he is probably correct, the judgement is pre-mature.

Consider, Teddy Kennedy did not jump into the Democratic presidential primary until November 1979. Still, challenges to incumbents tend to come from the base, and in this regard Obama is the base. It is hard to imagine a credible challenger to Obama’s left. This is likely to be point Obama, but not until further in the year when we see if the President’s numbers stay in the 30s.

Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.  Obama wins here.

Third Party: There is no significant third party challenge. Lichtman gives Obama this point.  But not so fast.

Ross Perot did not jump into the 1992 presidential race until February `92, after primary voting had already begun. He was responding to a strong public indifference to the likely major candidates.

Right now, there is fluid instability that flows through liberal, conservative and independent voting circles. Opposition to Obama is broadly established, but if the GOP fails to nominate a candidate who can appeal beyond conservative primary voters, there will almost certainly be a third party candidacy.  The jury is still out on this category.

Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the  election campaign.  Lichtman declares an “undecided” in this category. Most estimates right now have economic growth continuing at a tepid pace. They interpretation here is whether a “technical” recession is required, or if there is a continued “perceived” recession, as most Americans believe.  In that case, it is more likely than not that this category goes against President Obama.

Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term  equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.  Lichtman correctly gives the President a negative rating here. Ironically for POTUS, there is no way he can match George W. Bush’s economic performance.

Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in  national policy. Here, Lichtman gives Obama the point based on Stimulus and Obamacare.

Big policy changes for sure, but does change for changes sake make it a positive?  The President’s low job approval rating is based at leat in part on durable opposition to the hallmarks of his first two years – specifically health care and the Stimulus. I think this is a negative for the president, not a positive.

Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.  Lichtman says that there was no social unrest when he made the predicting and gave Obama the point. If this refers to LA style riots a la 1992, he’s correct. But that definition is too narrow. What about the protests in Wisconsin? Beck’s rally on the Mall last year? Indeed, isn’t the formation of the Tea Party itself evidence of social unrest? Does unrest by definition have to be violent?  I believe the President loses a point here.

Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.  Lichtman gives President Obama the point here. There has not been an Iran-Contra or Lewinsky-gate during his term. Bending the Constitution on Obamacare, allowing the EPA to operate by fiat and failing to adhere to the War Powers Act on Libya are legitimate policy issues, but don’t rise to the level of scandal. Point Obama.

Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no  major failure in foreign or military affairs. Says Lichtman, “We haven’t  seen any major failure that resembles something like the Bay of Pigs  and don’t foresee anything.” Point Obama.  I agree. Weakness abroad, on Iran or North Korea is not the same as failure.

Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a  major success in foreign or military affairs. Lichtman gives Obama the point for Osama bin Laden.  I agree.

Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a  national hero. States Lichtman, “I did not give President Obama the  incumbent charisma key. I counted it against him. He’s really led from  behind. He didn’t really take the lead in the health care debate, he  didn’t use his speaking ability to move the American people during the  recession. He’s lost his ability to connect since the 2008 election.”  For Licthman, Obama loses this key.  I agree.

Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not  charismatic or a national hero.  Licthman has looked over the GOP field and determined that there is no one who meets the criteria.  Point for Obama as a result.

Not so fast.  We still do not know who will be the GOP nominee, or perhaps more shockingly, who might head up a third party.  I’m undecided here.

So, instead of winning eight keys under Lichtman’s analysis, the argument presented here yields POTUS only four solid keys. Three remain undecided.  And six go against the President.

It is a very different picture, and far from the slam dunk that Lichtman claims.

At the end of the day, the intellectual exercise only confirms that it is way too soon to take a victory lap, or to be sure of anything.


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