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Obama will win, he can relax, says expert US forecaster

Allan Lichtman (picture in left) introduces “the world’s only do-it-yourself prediction” to a select audience in Calcutta.

The prediction model — based on 13 keys — forecasts the reelection of Barack Obama in the US presidential election to be held on November 6. To convince the audience, Lichtman took them through all the 13 keys asking them to ascertain if they were true or false. The audience judged 11 out of the 13 keys to be true, a sure shot that Obama would be reelected as six or more keys have to be false for the incumbent President to lose the elections.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee, editor, editorial pages of The Telegraph, moderated the session organised by the American Centre in association with Aspen Institute India.

Question: What is common between Ronald Regan, George HW Bush, William J Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama other than they all have been occupants of the White House?

Answer: Allan Lichtman, a US professor of history, has successfully predicted their victory in the Presidential elections since 1984.

Lichtman has been correctly predicting the outcome of US presidential elections since 1984 with the help of a model — that he developed with (then) Soviet geophysicist Vladimir Kellis Brook — based upon the theory of pragmatic voting. According to this theory, America’s electorate chooses a President, not according to events of the campaign, but according to how well the party in control of the White House has governed the country.

Lichtman — author of The Keys to the White House — spoke to Devadeep Purohit of The Telegraph to explain the details of his model and its applicability beyond the US.

Prediction for 2012 US elections

My first prediction for 2012 elections was published in the Journal of Information Systems in January 2010, almost three years before the elections. Based on my model, I have been consistently predicting that Barack Obama is going to be re-elected President of the United States. He can relax, his re-election is assured. But I know he won’t relax because no politician believes what an academic has to say.

The basis of the forecast

The idea is that elections are basically votes — up or down — on how well the party holding the White House has governed. If the party has governed badly, they lose. If things are going reasonably well, they win. And the keys to prediction are 13 true/false questions, which primarily relate to strength and performance of the party holding the White House.

(Sample some of the key questions: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign, real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms, there is no sustained social unrest during the term, the incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs etc)

An answer of true favours the re-election of the party in power and an answer of false favours the challengers. If six or more keys are false, then the party in power loses. If fewer than six are false, the party holding the White House wins. This time it is Obama and the Democrats… They only have three false keys, which is well short of predicting their defeat.

Criticism of the keys

When I first came out with the keys, all the political scientists and professional forecasters laughed at me and said, this can’t work as it is subjective. Then the keys were proven right in seven consecutive elections…. In early 21st century, the whole forecasting profession shifted and they came to realise that when you are dealing with human beings, it cannot be done only with equations. You have to make judgements and there has to be some degree of subjectivity. All of a sudden, the keys became the hottest thing in forecasting.

Nervous moments with predictions

I felt nervous many a times… In 1988, I was very nervous as I had predicted victory for George H.W. Bush, which no one could believe. I had nervous moments while predicting Bush’s defeat in the 1992 elections as there were exactly six false keys and there was no margin of error. The contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush was close in 2000 as well, but my prediction was correct.

People have always challenged my forecast, more so because I forecast so long ahead of time. For example, in 1988, when George H.W. Bush was running for President against Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, for the first time. Around this time in May 1988, Bush was 17 points down in the polls and nobody thought that he could possibly win. I published an article in May 1998 in the Washingtonian magazine, in which I said, forget the polls, forget the pundits, Bush would win as he was running on the Regan record of the last four years. People thought I was crazy, nobody can win when down by 17 points…. So, I don’t pay any attention to the polls or approval ratings and stick to my system.

Applicability of keys beyond the US

I am going to Delhi and will meet Indian scholars to see whether this can be applied in India. The US is becoming very heterogeneous, may be not as much as India…. US government has come with a statistic, which shows that majority of babies born in the US are not white, they are from minority groups. We are getting more and more diverse, but you have different kinds of diversities, like that of language and castes.

Using the same model in India will be difficult also because of some other reasons. First, America has a much longer history as our elections go back to 1860 and beyond, whereas in India it goes back to 1950. Second, we have a two-party system, which you don’t have. Third, we have a presidential system and you have a parliamentary system. So, it’s going to be a challenge.

Future of Indo-US ties

I think Indo-US relations will not change much. I think whoever wins, Indo-US ties will probably be similar. The United States and India need each other… They don’t have the same priorities, for example the sanctions on Iran. I think relations will be stable, no matter who is elected.