Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not Buying the Keys

I wouldn't put a whole lot of weight...well, actually, I wouldn't put any weight at all on Allan Lichtman's prediction that Barack Obama will be re-elected, based on his "keys" system. What he has is a combination of things that are generally causes (such as the economy) of incumbent party success, things that are effects of incumbent party success (such as the incumbent winning renomination uncontested and third party challenges), and things that are arbitrary and dubious (such as whether the candidates have "charisma").

It's not surprising that you can "predict" the winner with that batch of stuff. After all, while Lichtman's system has worked since he debuted it for the 1984 cycle, a much simpler system that predicts the incumbent party wins barring an election-year recession also successfully calls the winners from 1984 through 2008, at least if you count 2000 for Gore (as Lichtman does). That doesn't make Lichtman wrong as much as it just means his system isn't telling us much that we don't already know otherwise.

(Updated w/typo fixed)


  1. What Obama has going for him most of all is the lack of sane opponents. Perry and Bachmann hold extremist beliefs that the majority of Americans find appalling. Even if the media can prop them up through the nomination process, they'll be destroyed later on during the debates and final stretch. The fact is that Obama has dropped the ball on a lot of issues, but he still looks better when compared to the Republican loony bin.

  2. Alex, that's the same thinking that had Jimmy Carter beating Ronald Reagan -- only it didn't happen. If the economy is bad enough, anybody who wins the GOP nomination could very easily become President. Extremism at most will cost the candidate a few percent which would more than be countered by the high unemployment rate and voter discontent.

  3. I think the reason Carter is not the precedent is that he was seen as responsible for the state of the economy. The American public seems to think (rightly) that GWB is mainly responsible for the problem.

  4. Carter had a double whammy working against him -- not just a lousy economy but the perception that he was weak and ineffectual in handling the Iranian hostage crisis. Had he been able to arrange to have them freed before the election, and had the GOP ticket not interfered with the negotiations, it's likely Jimmy would have been respected, despite the economy.

  5. I agree with Alex here. Ron E., the economy under Carter was FAR worse than what it is now. Inflation in the summer of 1980 was in double digits (13-14%), whereas now it's only 3.5%. There were lines down the street to buy gas. And unemployment then was about 8%, just a percent lower than where it is now. The Iranian hostage crisis exacerbated the economic news, and people then were just ready for someone to blow enough sunshine up their asses to get them to stop thinking about how messed up their lives and the country were. All this talk about how bad the economy is compared to how bad it's been isn't paying enough attention. Yes, people are having a very hard time finding good jobs; blame that on corporations who no longer want to pay a decent wage to American workers, when they can preserve their wealth and shareholder value by exporting it somewhere cheaper. Yes, we have a lot of national debt right now. Tell me, exactly, where would we be had the government not stepped in to save GM, for example? How would unemployment have looked then?

    The bottom line, as Jonathan puts it, is the economy. We have no recession, no matter what the opinion whores in the Murdoch media empire want us to believe. We have universal health care coming to millions of Americans. We have lots of cash to spend when our confidence returns enough to start spending it. This points to a robust, spirited, and frequently passionate debate over the next year, resulting in the defeat of the GOP. Should they again continue to move to the right, and should the Democrats find another worthwhile candidate, there might just be an exception to the post-ware trend of giving one party eight years before shifting to the other side.

  6. Eric P.,

    Paul Krugman argues that when Ronald Reagan asked in 1980 whether people were better off than they had been four years earlier, the objective answer was actually yes (even if few people believed it). That hasn't been true now for a decade. It wasn't true before the recession, and it's even less true at the lower state of "normal" where we've settled since the recession. That's not necessarily Obama's fault, but a lot of people will believe that it is.

  7. Scott -- I disagree with your assertion. Reagan asked people to ask themselves if they were better off. It wasn't an appeal to collective judgment about our national circumstances. If enough believed they were worse off, then the country was. When Obama campaigned, it was also true, not only on the micro but also on the macro level. When Obama took office, we were bleeding jobs at a rate of 800,000 a month, and only now are we starting to see net gains in employment. So I think there will be a lot of people who will answer yes to that question this time. How Obama frames that will be crucial. He can successfully argue that it wasn't the government reaching in and snatching away their jobs; it was their employers who, denied credit by a financial sector so overburdened with bad investments it could no longer extend any more credit, no longer had the funds to continue to pay them. And remember, since our manufacturing base has been so decimated over the past several decades, the bulk of these jobs were in service sectors, which had ties to finance and real estate.

  8. Eric,
    I'm afraid I have to agree with Scott here. People's memories are insanely fuzzy. But, it's more than that. People may vote as if they're answering Reagan's question, but in actuality, they don't compare things. They just vote based on whether they're happy or not. Reagan phrased it that way to get them to blame Carter for it, but that's because it doesn't really fit logically to say: "blame everything on the guy in office, regardless of who caused it." But that's how people behave.

    Wilson gained votes in New Jersey when he ran for reelection. However, in two towns, his vote share was around 10% lower. Those two towns? Towns that had shark attacks (that may have been an inspiration for the book that inspired Jaws!). Flu epidemic? Yep, incumbents suffer at the polls. Droughts? Yep.

    I fully agree with you that Bush was terribad and Obama has been much better, and I'll be pulling that lever for Obama in 14 months. But, if the economy doesn't improve before then, I'll be on the losing side.

  9. Yeah, but that guy has tortured even his own model, in predicting that Obama's gonna be reelected. Let’s go through an analysis of his key 13 points:

    1. Party mandate: Obama loses this key.

    2. Contest: Right now, Obama would have a firm primary challenge if he wasn’t black (Hillary for sure, and others). Obama loses this key.

    3. Incumbency: Yes, default win for Obama.

    4. Third Party: There may yet be a third party challenge, so this one is undecided.

    5. Short term economy: This is no undecided. Obama loses this key.

    6. Long-term economy: Obama loses this key.

    7. Policy change: This key is bogus, and if anything, it’s a net negative for Obama (Bailouts, Porkulus, Cap and Tax, ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank and the regulatory overreach are absolutely despised). This is an Obama loss.

    8. Social unrest: As all populist movements are, the Tea Party is a form of social unrest, however civil their restiveness. And we haven’t heard the last from the Left, particularly unions, and next Summer they may well be going a bit further than the mostly peaceful Wisconsin state house occupiers did, if they sense another loss coming. Obama loses this key, from both ends of the political spectrum.

    9. Scandal: Gun Walker isn’t catching on (yet), but it well may, and Holder is a maximum liability from many angles. There are multiple Congressional investigations of lefties ongoing. Issa is tenacious, and he's got over a year to gin something up. I’d call this one undecided right now.

    10. Foreign/military failure: Obama has nearly quadrupled our troop counts in Afghanistan, and the body count has skyrocketed. He’s unilaterally launched an extra-constitutional war in Libya, is currently flying the “Mission Accomplished” flag, and we know how that has turned out in the past. This one is undecided, at best.

    11. Foreign/military success: I’ll give Obama a won key for killing Osama, but that’s being quite generous, as there are foreign policy issues hanging fire that could easily outweigh that.

    12. Incumbent charisma: Yes, The Messiah has been exposed now, and loses this key.

    13. Challenger charisma: Perry shoots coyotes, and calls Bernanke out for treason. Yeah, he’s got plenty enough charisma to bounce Obama. Another loss, although Romney may be a might short on the coyote/treason scale.



    So tabbing up my Lichtman score I have Obama winning 2 keys, 3 are undecided, and 8 are lost. Lichtman says if an incumbent loses 6 keys, he’ll lose reelection. I show Obama losing 8, with 3 more potential losses pending, and no clear path to get to Lichtman's required 6.

    My analysis using Lichtman's model would bring the result into alignment with current polling, I'd say, which Lichtman's analysis doesn't do. He better reassess his model's application here, I'd say. Obama is moving into his reelection campaign weaker than any president in many years, by Lichtman’s keys. He may lose 12 of the 13.

    Nobody should be firmly predicting Obama's reelection right now, based upon what we have in front of us.

  10. 2: Obama's about where Bill Clinton was at 1995, and has more policy credits to his success (as viewed by the Democratic party) than Clinton did. Clinton did not draw a primary challenge. Got any counter-evidence?

    4: A 3rd-party run would've had to start three months ago to have any chance of being effective; the only candidate with any kind of profile in the 3rd-party realm is Bloomberg, and he's not running.

    7: "Bailouts"? You mean TARP? George W. Bush's TARP? This is where we go from difference of opinion to actual, bona-fide dishonesty, and, to tell the truth, I'm surprised you made it this far. While the Affordable Care Act isn't all that popular, the things it *does*--eliminates the lifetime limit, gets more people covered, lets parents cover their kids until 26, as opposed to 18--are, in fact popular. Cap and Trade, initially a Republican idea, didn't pass the Senate, so it might as well not exist; in general, the Republicans are going to lose the global climate change debate just like they've lost every debate. Dodd-Frank, which at least *tried* to reign in Wall Street, is only unpopular on Republican websites.

    8: Social Unrest: Hey, if *you* think the Tea Party's going to turn into the Weather Underground, or follow in the footsteps of conservative Republicans Jim David Adkisson, Richard Poplawski, Scott Roeder, and Byron Williams (murderers and attempted murderers all!) that's very good information to have. Also perhaps information you should be passing on to the local authorities. Don't see how it hurts Obama, though.

    9: WTF is Gun Walker? Jesus, it's like you guys are speaking your own special code. Roy Edroso of alicublog is right: it's like the Kremlin. But srsly, you've had 2.5 years and your own cable news network. If you can't even get a *fake* scandal to take off, that's kind of pathetic--and speaks to Pres. Obama's discipline.

    12: "Messiah": A friendly reminder that George W. Bush had groups of people praying on his behalf daily, and that Bush himself believed that he "spoke directly to God," meaning Bush scores a lot higher on the Messiah key complex than Obama did. Obama's likeability ratings (as opposed to his job approval ratings) are high; people just like the guy and find him reasonable.

    13: Accusing a Republican federal employee of a capital crime isn't evidence of charisma, it's violent-minded insanity, and alarming given Adkisson, Poplawski, Roeder, Williams, and that Texas tax-hating guy who flew a plan into the IRS. There may be other examples of Perry being charismatic, but that ain't one.

    I think we're both in agreement that the keys aren't necessarily a good predictors, but you put your whole fist on the scale to try to sway things. Obama's not a shoo-in for re-election, but he's damn well better positioned than you think he is.

  11. Oh yeah, and assuming that people wouldn't challenge Obama because he's black, as opposed to the fact that Democrats recognize that h's A) A formidable candidate, and B) Has achieved far more policy successes than either Clinton or Carter had at this point is seriously, genuinely weird. It shows you have no idea how Democrats actually think, and have been watching way too much Fox News. You live in a freaking bubble, man. And people in bubbles don't do good political analysis. (Dick Morris thought the 2008 race was going to be Hillary Clinton vs. Condi Rice. With that kind of wrong, you shouldn't be allowed on TV again.)

  12. Folks, again, please keep the partisan gibes to a minimum.

    On the substance: I don't agree that it's too late for a significant 3rd party run. Indeed, if Obama is under 40% approval through December, I'd think it's likely, although of course not certain, that we'll get one. Not that a 3rd party candidate would have a plausible chance of winning, but it is definitely possible to enter in the winter and get 5-10% (or even more, as Perot did).

  13. "It's not surprising that you can "predict" the winner with that batch of stuff. After all, while Lichtman's system has worked since he debuted it for the 1984 cycle, a much simpler system that predicts the incumbent party wins barring an election-year recession also successfully calls the winners from 1984 through 2008, at least if you count 2000 for Gore (as Lichtman does). That doesn't make Lichtman wrong as much as it just means his system isn't telling us much that we don't already know otherwise."

    So we have two systems that have had equal predictive value calling for different results next year (assuming there's a recession next year, which seems likely). This looks like an opportunity to empirically test whether the economy is really the sole determinant of incumbent electoral success, or whether a more multi-dimensional model like Lichtman's is necessary.

    Oh, and about the subjective keys, it's important to remember that those are the ones Lichtman is usually most reluctant to turn in the incumbent's favor. The general rule is that when the word "major" appears in a key, it means "really major," as demonstrated by popular action. "Social unrest" = riots or repeated police clashes with protesters. "Major military triumph" = something that's on the front pages of newspapers for days and subject of massive popular celebration (like bin Laden's death).

  14. Chill, Greg. You're a partisan lefty, we get that, and that’s perfectly fine. Heck, I used to be a partisan lefty, too, until I saw through the game a bit more clearly.

    Given the Left’s restiveness recently, occurring in parallel with the rest of us the restive, Obama would already have a primary challenge right now, and in fact, it’s been spoken of in the last 30-60 days. But it’s impossible for a Democrat to challenge him, because he’s black, and that would destabilize a crucial part of the Left’s coalition. They’re hoisted by their own petard here. But you can’t seriously believe Hillary wouldn’t be mounting a challenge right now otherwise, can you? If Obama was a white man, she’d be tearing him apart right now, and getting traction, and many would have jumped to rectify that 2008 mistake.

    Obama’s numbers with D’s have long been on an almost imperceptible slide, and now they’re dipping below Clinton’s for the first time, and they will undoubtedly hold on that trajectory, unlike Clinton’s which continued to rise. Plus, Obama’s always been down to Independents, at least since 4-5 months in, and today those numbers are simply catastrophic for him. Clinton always tracked well with Independents. The Left had no political numbers case to go after Clinton, but they do with Obama.

    And we shouldn’t ever compare Bill Clinton, the master, with this inexperienced neophyte Obama. It’s almost insulting to one of the most skilled political minds of our time. Billy Jeff runs circles around poor Obama, and he’d never have done anything that would have encouraged a primary challenge, and didn’t. Obama IS foolish enough to do so, but he has that one saving grace that will preclude it… the political numbers could flip drastically, in a known-unknown way, as Rumsfeld puts it.

    There’ll likely be a 3rd party run, Nader or otherwise, and given the situation, I’d estimate it might draw off as much as 1-3% in spots. Remember, many of the Greens and others think Obama is just as much of a crony corporatist sellout as his “opposition”. And frankly, I agree with them. That’s why I left the Left originally… these sorta hypocrisies were quite apparent.

    I don’t really want to discuss policy over politics here, but as you’re calling me “dishonest” for hanging Bailouts on Obama, I guess I’ll have to remind you that TARP was used to bail out Government Motors, and Obama’s buddies. And Porkulus included many, many Bailouts of Obama’s buddies, including the bankrupt solar company yesterday, $535M worth of de facto Bailout, with borrowed Chinese money. And the Fed’s shenanigans, and Obama’s quick defense of same when Perry attacked, is proof enough that he approves of that work, and thus any attack on Obama is appropriate, as these too are politically assailable as Bailouts. The Fed’s balance sheet has expanded drastically, and in ways we’ve never seen executed. Bailouts is an acceptable attack here, as you must accept.

  15. Furthermore, as we’re discussing politics, don’t be so sure that those Government Motors Bailouts are gonna help Obama politically. Here in Michigan, it ain’t. People see through that scam, and that it hasn’t helped Tier II’s and Tier III’s, screwed the salaried and investors, and only aided a select few UAW members. Check November 2008, and see how much it helped the Left here in Michigan. And check 2012, because we may be headed for a repeat here. I have Stabenow as only a slight favorite, and that status is stunning to me. Obama may well lose Michigan, and take Deb down with him. Give me good enough odds, and I’ll bet Obama drops all Midwest states save Illinois. I'm not putting my "fist" on anything with my analysis here. This guy is on life support right now... and I'm seeing it right in front of my eyes right here in what should be his Midwest stronghold. He's only a whisker from going flatline.

    Bailouts are a political loser, and these are Obama’s, not Bush’s, and that’s why I mentioned it as a negative for him. They are that, but I’ll leave it to you fierce partisans to explain to the electorate that these aren’t Bailouts, Wall Street needs help, it’s all Bush’s fault for them, or whatever political story is offered. I don’t think it’s working yet, but good luck.

    As for social unrest, it’s already occurring as I mentioned, and in fact we’ve even seen some social/civil disobedience recently, as you know. You speak of actual violence, and yes, I do expect the restive Left to engage in that over this next year and a half or so. I wouldn’t expect it from the Right, as they appear to be winning politically, and outright violence is mostly a lefty thing. But anything’s possible, I guess, and there are always nutters out there, of all stripes. In any case, today’s social unrest is real enough, and Lichtman’s calling it a key point, which means Obama loses it.

    The problem for fierce partisans is that they will find it impossible to see political realities. You can see that in Lichtman, who as I mentioned tortured his own model to arrive at his Obama reelection prediction. He can’t see what the data is telling us right now, because he’s a fierce partisan, as you.

    That blindness is killing the Left. Just killing it. And it isn’t as if the mainstream electorate is embracing Republicans, because they’re not. They are smashing the Left, for what they’re doing, and not doing. Best to open up and take a look at that, because it’s reality.

    Given this regulatory announcement today, perhaps Obama is opening his own eyes, finally. He better. His course has been disastrous, for the country, but for him most of all. If he doesn’t change course, he’s absolutely finished. I think he’s finished anyway, because it’s too late to make the necessary changes in time for his reelection run. In January 2012, we’ll have our referendum mind made up on Mr. Obama, yea or nay, as always in presidential elections. And any of the R governors will easily slip into that slot. I realize you think of them as evil Faux News demons, but the 15-20% will decide that, and they’re the same ones who are basically deciding Obama isn’t up to the job right now, and who are basically a might closer than you to a demographic resembling… oh… say… the Texas electorate. ;-)


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