The keys to power

How to predict elections.

There’s the excellent data-route of Nate Silver, and there’s the gut-feel the formula concocted by Allan Lichtman, the academic behind The Keys to the White House.

In 1981 Lichtman developed 13 “Keys” or categories to measure the performance of the incumbent.

His assumption is that incumbents lose power, rather than oppositions winning. This gels with my observations that incumbents whittle away their own advantage over time. My theory goes a step further – I think it’s possible for political parties to succeed on all measures but still finally get replaced because voters just get tired.

Lichtman postulates that if the incumbent has failed in six or more of the 13 categories, it loses power.

It’s one thing to stipulate these categories, but another to judge performance under them. After all, politics is rarely about actual performance, and mostly about perceived performance.

Lichtman has proved himself quite good at assessing performance in the categories – picking every President correctly since he first outlined his 13 Keys.

I think these keys are relevant outside of the Presidential Race, and can be applied to political party governance internationally.

The Keys are:

  1. Party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. In an international context, this Key can be interpreted as having not lost by-elections, and local elections where relevant.
  2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination, or to the leader over the preceding term. 
  3. Incumbency: The incumbent party leader or candidate is the sitting President, or leader.
  4. Third Party: There is no significant third party challenge.
  5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
  6. Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. 
  7. Policy change: The incumbent party has brought about major changes in national policy. I’m not so sure on this one, although I am certain that lots of minor changes build up voter resentment.
  8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term. 
  9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
  10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
  11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
  12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. 
  13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

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