Thirteen Keys (Updated)

I found this piece by Tim Hains at RealClearPolitics on historian Alan Lichtman’s method for predicting the outcomes of presidential elections thought-provoking:

President Biden is under mounting pressure to drop his bid for a second term. In this interview with the Wall Street Journal, American University Historian Allan Lichtman, who correctly predicted nine of the last ten presidential elections using his system of “13 keys to the White House,” breaks down why Biden still represents the best bet for Democrats.

“American presidential elections are essentially votes up or down on the strength or performance of the White House Party. In other words, it is governance, not campaigning that counts,” Lichtman said. “It is still the best bet for Democrats to have Biden stay in the race.”

“The 13 keys to the White House are 13 true/false questions pertaining primarily to the strength and performance of the White House party, that when answered true, always favor stability. If six or more of the keys are false, we have earthquakes. If fewer than six are false, we have stability.”

Here are the thirteen questions:

  1. Incumbent seeking re-election
  2. No primary contest
  3. Party mandate
  4. Strong short-term economy
  5. Strong long-term economy
  6. Major policy change
  7. No scandal
  8. Charismatic incumbent
  9. Uncharismatic challenger
  10. No significant third party
  11. No social unrest
  12. No major foreign/military failure
  13. Major foreign/military success

Without going to the linked piece to confer with Dr. Lichtman’s answers to those question, I challenge my readers to answer them for themselves. I will be interested in seeing your answers.

My reaction was that some of those questions (e.g. 1, 2) are objective but many are subjective (e.g. 8, 9). Consequently, your answers may well be different from Dr. Lichtman’s and may suggest a different outcome. That would account for a lot of the comments to Mr. Hains’s post and Dr. Lichtman’s answers in particular which I found pretty shocking.


Ray Fair continues to predict that based on his Fair Model President Biden will receive a majority of the popular vote and that if Biden does not run the Democratic candidate would receive a lower percentage of the popular vote. How that translates to being elected president is outside the scope of his model.

4 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    Looks like I get to go first, but I find the list bizarre.

    1 Well, duh. But ignores current considerations
    2 By design. Standard, but again, ignores current considerations.
    3 See #2, as of May. Now, and we will find out this week in my opinion, not at all clear.
    4/5 They continue to pump out the propaganda, but the economy simply is not good. ZeroHedge does a great job of pulling apart statistics if you really want to consider various interpretations.
    6 ?

    7 – scandal? Just hiding his impairment, and his bribe taking. And seriously, people, what are we to make of the notion that Jill and Crackhead Hunter are trusted advisors? Maybe one of Hunter’s whores is a closet policy genius?
    8/9 Seriously? And Trump may be charismatic, but otherwise, ugh. He simply is better on policy. That’s all this election should be. Statesmen are not running. Policy, and the ability to be coherent, are.

    10/11 – just don’t know what to say.
    12 – Afghanistan? Ukraine? Total messes.
    13 Uhh……….

    I am fascinated by the gaslighting about Biden having 3 years of huge success, and just a teensey-weensey slip in a debate.

    How stupid do they think we are? I guess very stupid…..

  • CStanley Link

    At best this seems like an outdated, broken prediction tool. In addition it seems it would always have been prone to being incorrect when biased assessments are made.

    I guess what he’s saying is that you don’t give up the positives that are already in your favor, like incumbency. And he’s trying to make it seem that taking that off the table will change the outcome by claiming that half of the other keys favor the Dems but that’s highly subjective and dubious IMO.

  • steve Link

    After many years of investigations the GOP still hasn’t found any proof Joe Biden took bribes. In fact, their star witnesses keep falling. On the economy, it says something if you have to resort to the gold bug site Zero Hedge to find some way to make the economic numbers look bad.

    As an aside, Cowen linked to a paper looking at inflation by geographic area and by income class which was pretty good. Inflation in some areas like the Pacific area is worse but because income growth has been stronger it has not been as impactful. In areas like the South Atlantic wages are growing slower which makes the inflation impact worse. Of special note, an awful lot of the disparity in the geographic inequality of inflation is more geographic than income based and its largely due to housing inflation. Housing inflation is mostly due to state and local effects constraining supply, NIMBYs. Suggests that fed intervention may not have much impact on that kind of inflation.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think various models including 538 give Biden an incumbency boost over his poll numbers which is almost certainly wrong. In the only comparable election former President Cleveland won the rematch. Similarly, the extent of a third-party threat might be greater with two Presidents on the ticket. Turnout was down in 1892 by almost 5 percentage points and third parties increased their vote share by over 7 percentage points. Fewer people voted and of those that voted fewer voted D or R.

    I’ve heard a few weeks ago that the governments in every major democracy that was in power in early 2022 are currently in serious trouble. I’m not sure which countries that includes, the date was definitely selected to omit Italy which dissolved its parliament that summer. The mood is foul, and in the U.S. views on the economy are not good, even among Democrats, but particularly among minority Democrats. If Biden loses, commentators will point to the economy, particularly high costs, as a weight he couldn’t overcome.

    The scandal of Bidengate isn’t deteriorating health due to aging it is the coverup by his family and staff. Again if he loses, this will be marked as a scandal even if people aren’t using that term now.

    “Charisma” seems to be completely eye-of-the-beholder stuff and it’s 15% of the analysis. There haven’t been enough elections to be confident in these factors, and this one is pretty unusual historically. I think the polls are the best predictor right now, not a fairly subjective evaluation of non-poll based fundamentals.

Leave a Comment