The science of predicting elections: Is Obama a sure thing in 2012?
The president's poll numbers are tanking, but a mathematician with a perfect track record predicting presidential elections says Obama is still a lock
A teetering economy, high unemployment, low approval ratings: "For President Obama, the news just never seems to get any better," says Alex Parker at U.S. News. By most normal metrics, his "road to re-election may be impossibly steep." But history is actually on Obama's side, says Josh Voorhees at Slate. And "by 'history,' we mean Allan Lichtman," an American University professor who has predicted the winner in all seven presidential elections since 1984 — and whose formula also correctly IDs the winner of the 30 presidential elections before that. Lichtman's "13 Keys" predict elections by judging the recent performance of the party in the White House. (Sample questions: Did the opposition pick up congressional seats in the midterm? Is there a recession? Did the White House win any major foreign policy victories?) According to Lichtman's keys, Obama did well enough in his first term to win in 2012. How solid is this formula?
Lichtman's record speaks for itself: When Lichtman says Obama's "re-election is in the bag," pay attention, say Paul Bedard and Lauren Fox at U.S. News. His 13 Keys are eerily predictive, picking the winner years before elections and often against conventional wisdom. If the president picks up eight or more keys, he wins. By Lichtman's count, Obama has nine, with one up in the air. Happy belated birthday, Mr. President.
"Never-wrong pundit picks Obama to win in 2012"
The keys turn both ways: "Going 37 for 37 isn't bad in the prediction business," says Rich Lewis in the Carlisle, Pa., Sentinel. But "I'm not sure you can count on the keys going 38 for 38." Lichtman's criteria are pretty subjective. One key scores the challenger's charisma. Another measures social unrest. When I score it, Obama wins just seven keys, "so, for me, the model predicts he will lose."
"Predicting the 2012 election"
It's still the economy, stupid: Lichtman's keys are probably too subjective and bendable to bank on, says statistics guru Nate Silver at The New York Times. Only 15 percent of his keys pertain to the economy, an issue my research suggests "accounts for about half of a voter's decision." If the economy's bad, but everything else is basically good for Obama, "the election figures to be on a razor's edge" — keys or no.
"Despite keys, Obama is no lock"