The 13 Keys Revisited and What They Mean for 2008 and 2012

I’ve referred frequently to the 13 Keys system for forecasting the Presidency. The system was developed by Professor Allan Lichtman. The system has predicted the popular vote turnout of every election since 1884.

Lichtman explains his model this way:

The Keys show that elections are not horse races in which candidates surge ahead or fall behind on the campaign trail, with pollsters keeping score. Rather, 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 include 13 diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. 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…The verdict of the Keys for 2008 does not depend on the particular candidate nominated by either party. So my advice to Republicans and Democrats alike in the primary elections is to vote for the candidate you believe in for 2008 and forget the misleading pursuit of the false grail of so-called “electability.”

Heroism seem to be exception to the, “The candidate doesn’t matter rule.” When the Incumbent Party nominee is Charismatic or a National Hero that is a statement that helps the incumbent party, as well as if the nominee of the Incumbent Party is not a National Hero or Charismatic. As a challenging party needs six keys to topple the administration, if in 2008, Obama has five keys against him, Republicans would do better to nominate a Charismatic candidate like Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin, or a National like David Petraeus instead of Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

One also has to say that campaigns matter in that they define the party and the candidate and whether they can get downticket candidates elected. Also, if a campaign is down a key or two, a flawless strategic campaign might be able to pull a shock and win the electoral college.

In his initial examination last November, Lichtman gave 7 keys to the Democrats. However, two of those keys appeared to me to flip. The success of the surge counted as a Foreign Policy success and John McCain was a national hero, flipping another key. However, by my count, Democrats picked up two of the unknown keys went to the Democrats, giving Barack Obama, 7 keys, one more than needed to win the popular vote against the incumbent administration. Here’s how I scored it:

True Keys

Key 4: There is no significant third-party or independent campaign

Key 6: Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

Key 8: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

Key 9: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

Key 11: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

Key 12: The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

False Keys

Key 1: 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.

Key 2: There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination.

Key 3: The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president.

Key 5: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

Key 7: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

Key 10: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

Key 13: The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

What about the 13 keys for 2012? The most immediate thing Republicans can do to help their White House chances for 2012 is to capture a net pick-up of 25 seats and get to at least 203 House Seats. Should Obama be the Democratic nominee in 2012 (as we can fully expect), he will have 2 keys in his favor: Being the incumbent and his charisma.

Other than the GOP’s own candidate for 2012 and the 2010 Mid-terms, whether Obama will obtain enough keys to win re-election is something that will depend entirely on how well (or poorly) the next four years go.