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Predicting the Presidential Election: 2012

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Amidst all the fuss about President Obama's sagging poll numbers, the struggling U.S. economy, and "who's up and who's down" in the Republican presidential primary contest, American University professor Allan Lichtman has issued his "sure fire" prediction for the outcome of the November 2012 election.

Lichtman is no crystal ball gazer. His predictions are based on a formula he developed in 1981 in collaboration with a Russian geophysicist, who had previously specialized in creating models used to forecast earthquakes. Their approach was based on a thorough analysis of the forces at work in shaping the political landscape in every U.S. presidential elections from 1860 to 1980. From this examination they developed their predictive model. And since then, Lichtman has used it to correctly forecast the outcome of every election from 1984 through 2008.

Instead of looking at polling numbers which show a snapshot of public opinion at a point in time, Lichtman analyzes macro trends in the economy and the society, viewing them as if they were tectonic plates whose shifting below the surface have the ability to create rumblings that can alter the political landscape. He identified 13 such indicators and calls them the "13 Keys to the Presidency."

According to Lichtman, if the incumbent party (that is, the political party that is currently in the White House) can claim eight of the "13 Keys," then they can be assured of victory in the next election. If, on the other hand, they hold seven or less, they are headed for defeat.

The "13 Keys" (with some explanatory notes) are:

1. Incumbent-party mandate: In the last congressional election, the incumbent party increased its seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

2. Nomination-contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination (as Carter faced from Senator Edward Kennedy in 1980).

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

4. Third party: There is no significant third-party challenge (which can be seen to garner at least 5 percent of the vote -- as was the case in 1992 when Ross Perot won 19 percent, helping Clinton defeat Bush).

5. Short-term economy: The economy is not currently in a recession.

6. Long-term economy: Real annual per-capita economic growth is equal to or greater than it was during the past two terms.

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

8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest (of the magnitude of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements).

9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by a major scandal (like Watergate or the Clinton impeachment).

10. Foreign or military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs (like Vietnam or the Iran hostage crisis in 1980).

11. Foreign or military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs (such as winning World War II).

12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero (much like Eisenhower in 1952 or Obama in 2008).

13. Challenger charisma: The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero (as Reagan was in 1980).

At the end of December 2011, I hosted Lichtman on my TV show, Viewpoint, where he issued his "one year before the election" prediction. According to Lichtman, the only three "Keys" which President Obama has definitely lost, to date, are #1, #6 and #12. Democrats clearly suffered significant losses in the 2010 mid-term elections (Key #1); the economy will not recover sufficiently to mark an increase in per capita income (Key #6); and while Obama was a charismatic figure in 2008, his aura has diminished and will not be a major factor in his favor in 2012 (Key #12). That makes three "Keys" gone. In addition, there are a few that are questionable, namely: Key #10 and Key #11 -- since it is not clear that killing bin Laden or the withdrawal from Iraq will be seen as "victories," or, conversely, that instability in Iraq and Afghanistan or a dreaded future terrorist attack will constitute a "foreign policy failure."

Nevertheless, this still leaves a maximum of 10 "Keys" and a minimum of eight "Keys" in the president's favor, enough for Lichtman, who has never been wrong, to confidently predict Obama's reelection in November.

To watch the segment of "Viewpoint" and hear Lichtman's full analysis click here.

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